The campaign to lower the voting age is not a new one. But there is a point in history when the time comes. We have seen it in our recent past, when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. And we have seen it when women and working class men were given the vote at the end of the first world war. These were hard won achievements.
Now I believe that the time has come to give 16 and 17-year olds that vote too. Because democracy is not, and never should be, an exclusive club. Members of parliament across the house agree with me on this, and there is a growing Tory case for votes at 16 too.
I think we demand a lot of 16 and 17-year olds today. They are part of an increasingly complex world, and were not given a say in the referendum on United Kingdom’s membership of European Union when they clearly should have been. Young people also face growing challenges – an unpredictable jobs market, obstacles to higher education, and acute housing pressures, to name a few.
So with this in mind, it is my view that democracy should be about franchising people. And it must move with the times, evolving to allow young people to affect change on the issues that matter to them most.
And for those Tory MPs who do not support this – they must wake up and realise that politics has become far more inclusive. There is now a drive to take into account a wider range of views when making decisions on people’s behalf.
Young people proved their worth in this year’s general election, when we had the highest youth turnout since 1992. In Scotland, where 16 and 17-year olds were given a say in the independence referendum, 75 per cent turned out to vote. The success of extending the franchise there led to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson declaring herself a convert to votes at 16. And now Wales is moving to lower the voting age for elections there.
Votes at 16 is a priority for young people themselves. This year almost a million young people voted in the UK youth parliament country-wide ballot called ‘Make Your Mark’, where votes at 16 was made one of their five priority campaigns.
I also see the desire for change and for political participation in Oldham’s youth parliament. I see and hear it when I visit schools and colleges. Young people are engaged and switched on to the world around them, and well aware of their place in society.
So clearly the time has come. Today, whatever the outcome of the debate, the campaign for votes at 16 will move forward. Because if you believe in a United Kingdom, it’s important we have equity in democracy too.
Jim McMahon is member of parliament for Oldham West and Royton, and has put forward a bill to lower the voting age. This article is part of a guest edit of Progress today in support of reducing the voting age to 16. You can read all the #VotesAt16 articles here. Jim tweets at @JimfromOldham
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