We should give 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote. In the case of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the reduction in the voting age to 16 enabled a generation of young people to become politically engaged and have their say on their country’s constitutional future.
I am aware of the arguments on both sides of this debate. There are those who argue that to reduce the age at which one can vote will fundamentally change the boundary between who is an adult and who is a child – with potential ramifications for the future debates over the right to buy alcohol or tobacco, for example.
I do not believe that this move would lead to the kind of drastic and detrimental changes envisaged by its critics. We are a mature democracy, able to differentiate between what age is appropriate for what activity. This is one issue where it is for Parliament to show discretion.
To extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds would mean that we are better able to provide an introduction to elections and democracy through the education system, and combat the problem of low turnouts at successive elections.
Our electoral system has evolved throughout gradual change and extensions to the franchise. The last major change was to enfranchise 18-21 year olds in 1969. Despite ardent opposition at the time, this did not undermine our democracy – instead it strengthened and extended it.
This is not about securing tactical advantage for one party or another in elections. Nor is it about skewing the voting demographics to deliver political change through altering the voting system. This is simply an issue of democracy.
The best form of democracy is one that is vibrant, pluralistic and participatory.