The next step towards universal suffrage

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by Chris Glendinning

As far as election campaigns go, this one has been a rollercoaster ride (if the opinion polls are to be believed, at least).  And as the future appears to be one of financial austerity and budget cuts, it is obvious that few political figures are prepared to dip their hands into the proverbial ‘goody bag’ and offer the electorate real change.

To me, whilst it is heartening to see four of the major parties (the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens) supporting the view that it is ludicrous to tax young people for having a desire to be educated, one issue that had been neglected in this campaign, and one that is generally ignored by politicians, is youth suffrage.

Whilst many politicians may say that they find the levels of youth unemployment in our nation to be “outrageous”, I find very few that are prepared to promise that they will bring an end to a different outrage: one that stops me and countless other young people who are well-informed about our political system, and have a great interest in politics, from taking part in the democratic process.

At my age (16), I am able to do many things.  I may drink beer, wine or cider with a meal at a restaurant, have sex, get married or enter full-time employment and contribute to the economy.  I can even enlist in the armed forces, and die serving my nation.

And yet like countless other under-18s I do not possess the ability to vote on the decisions and choices that will shape my future.  No, I do not enjoy that right; the right to choose who will represent me at various levels of government.  And I believe that something should be done.

There is no rational reason to oppose a reduction in the voting age to sixteen, or even lower.  The young people of this nation deserve the same basic rights as our elders.  Whilst those who do oppose such a move will try to convince you that young people aren’t interested in politics, this just simply isn’t the case.  A study by the UK’s Electoral Commission found that at least 30% of 15-17 year olds were interested in politics.

My real hope in this election is that over the Scottish Parliament’s next term, we all can work towards real, positive change.  Scotland’s young people cannot have five years of the same: a further half a decade of neglect at the hands of some of our representatives, merely because we do not make up a proportion of their electorate.  I know that I and other Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament will do our part, but regrettably that alone may not be enough.

We cannot achieve fairness without the support of our representatives in local authorities, at Holyrood and at Westminster.  Young people deserve a voice and like any other group in Scottish society they deserve the right to choose that voice.  As US President Abraham Lincoln once said “No-one is good enough to govern another without that other’s consent”.

Why should that principle not apply to us?