The terms of the Scottish referendum for 2014 recently signed by SNP leader Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron permit those from the age of 16 to vote in a move that reignites the debate of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds. In a move driven by cynicism rather than a desire to extend democracy, the SNP hope to achieve much needed support amongst younger voters who are more inclined to consider giving them their vote.
Advocates of votes for 16 commonly put forward the argument that a 16-year-olds’ ability to successfully complete a GCSE course shows they have shown the maturity to vote. This is a very poor analogy. To sit GCSEs students were provided with two years education to be able to make informed decisions. Whereas, 16-year-olds receive no educational assistance concerning voting.
For the issue to become a serious possibility, it is contingent upon education. Introducing the basis of political education at lower school by teaching core party history and policy will foster a sense of political consciousness amongst the young. Its absence breeds apathy which goes far in accounting for the poor voter turnout amongst younger voters. Without this introduction to politics at a younger age, a consciousness or sense that politics matters will only develop when electors understand the force of government policies on their lives after leaving the sheltered life of schooling.
Unsurprisingly, only 44% of those aged 18-24 voted in the 2010 general election. Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds will only exacerbate an already worrying statistic. Needless to say, a poorer turnout will damage a government’s mandate to implement its manifesto commitments.
The future extension of the franchise to those aged 16 and 17 for Westminster elections could hinge on the opportunity that Scottish 16 and 17-year-olds have been given to vote in the Scottish referendum. Labour leader Ed Miliband as an advocate for votes for 16 may very well use this Scottish ‘case study’ to further his case in the future; whether as a policy in opposition or in office.