Viewpoints: Can 16- and-17-year olds be trusted with the vote?

Youth Parliament

Sixteen and 17-year-olds may be able to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. But should they?

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Grant Costello

It's not just about capability. Young people rely on public services”

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Grant Costello MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP)

Votes at 16 is about accepting 16- and-17-year-olds are smart, rational, articulate people who should be seen as full citizens.

We already accept 16-year-olds are able to make rational long-term decisions because we allow them to work full-time, join the Army, and pay tax. I don't think you can argue young people are able to take the decision to choose to get married or to have children, but are incapable of choosing how to vote.

But it's not just about capability. Young people rely on public services such as transport and schools, but they have no influence over policies which affect their lives - it's no wonder they are disengaged. Lowering the voting age gives these young people the chance to have their say over the society they want to be part of.

Grant Costello

  • Chairs SYP, which says it is designed by young people, led by young people for the benefit of young people
  • Those aged 14-25 represent different areas and voluntary organisations across Scotland

The Scottish Youth Parliament already works with loads of capable, confident and well-informed 16- and-17-year-olds; imagine how many more will be engaged when they all can vote.

Recognising that the important issues equally affect young people, acknowledging they are capable of making decisions, and encouraging them to be part of society - those are the reasons why 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote.

Grant Costello can be followed on Twitter @GrantDCostello

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Philip Cowley

It's a bizarre way to reinvigorate democracy”

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Philip Cowley, University of Nottingham

Many of the arguments for lowering the voting age are factually wrong.

It is, for example, not true that you can "die for your country but not vote". Those under 18 are not allowed on frontline service.

We also only allow under-18s to join the armed forces with parental permission, because we don't think them old enough to make that judgement alone. Ditto (in England and Wales) for marriage, which under the age of 18 requires parental permission.

So if we're looking for comparisons, then if there is an age at which people are considered "adult" by the state - by which we mean the age at which we allow them to do things, without requiring parental consent and entirely of their own choosing - then that age is more often 18 than 16.

Philip Cowley

  • Professor of parliamentary government at University of Nottingham
  • On government's Youth Citizenship Commission that reported in 2009

When the Hansard Society examined public faith and understanding in the constitution they found just one area where the majority of people said they understood the issue and approved of the current position: and that was having a voting age of 18.

It's a bizarre way to reinvigorate democracy: Find the only issue where a majority both understand and agree, and then do the exact opposite. Polls of those below 18 don't find any great support for lowering to 16 either.

Philip Cowley can be followed on Twitter @philipjcowley

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Ben Page

Most 18 to 24-year-olds don't vote”

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Ben Page, Ipsos Mori

We asked 11-18-year-olds a few years ago whether they thought the voting age should be reduced and actually only half of them thought it should be reduced to 16.

Turnouts are so low amongst 18 to 24-year-olds that just giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds is unlikely to make a major difference. Most 18 to 24-year-olds don't vote in general elections, they either aren't registered or they don't turn out so their effect is much less than older people.

Eighteen-year-olds try out the vote and then turnout goes down slightly amongst 19 and 20-year-olds. They say it didn't necessarily change as much as they might have liked.

Overall it's the one part of the constitution that most people say they support, having the vote at 18.

Ben Page

  • Chief executive of Ipsos Mori, writer and speaker on leadership and performance management

In our most recent polling we saw actually it's the 25-34-year-olds, who were teenagers when the movie Braveheart came out in the mid-1990s, who are most enthusiastic about independence for Scotland and not the 18-24-year-olds."

Ben Page can be followed on Twitter @benatipsosmori

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Inaki Sagarzazu

Lowering the voting age could re-ignite the interest of the young in politics”

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Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

The Scottish Parliament, which has an SNP majority, is likely to give 16-year-olds the vote since it is SNP policy that the franchise should be lowered to 16 for all elections and referendums.

I personally am in favour of votes at 16. It is true that turnout tends to be lower amongst younger voters.

In the 2005 general election, just 44% of 18-24 year olds voted. But those over 16 are subject to tax, employment, and marriage laws as well as the criminal law. In addition, 16-year-olds are at school and may acquire the habit of voting from their civics or citizenship lessons.

By the time they reach 18, many will have left school and forgotten their lessons. So lowering the voting age could reignite the interest of the young in politics.

Vernon Bogdanor

  • Research professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History
  • Written widely on government and politics

But if the franchise is to be lowered, it should be for all elections and not selectively. It should be done after a full debate in Parliament and the country.

Lowering the voting age for the Scottish referendum could endanger the legitimacy of the outcome. If the referendum is won or lost on a narrow majority and survey evidence seems to indicate that the balance was swung by 16- and 17-year-olds, the losers may refuse to accept the result.

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Inaki Sagarzazu

These initiatives are plainly symbolic”

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Dr Inaki Sagarzazu, University of Glasgow

Lowering the age of voting beyond 18 years has been a new trend brought about by what it seems to be an increased political engagement of the under 18 population. Several countries in Latin America have either lowered the voting age or attempted to do so in recent years.

However, with the typical lower participation rate of the younger population it begs the question of what are the motivations behind the implementation of these changes?

Research on voter turnout has consistently found, across different countries and systems of government, that participation at the lower age range is much lower than the average turnout rate.

This means that despite what seems to be an active youth engagement in political activities the reality is that the younger generations vote less.

Inaki Sagarzazu

  • Lecturer in comparative politics at University of Glasgow

This lower participation is tied to an electorate that is on average less interested in politics than older cohorts. However, despite this reality governments in Latin America - and other regions - are actively promoting the reduction of the voting age population to under 18's.

Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Christina Kirchner are amongst the leaders promoting these initiatives. It seems that given the evidence against any significant participatory rate amongst the younger electorate these initiatives are plainly symbolic.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    658. Whilst I sort of agree that an age system is rather arbitrary - noting all the differing ages of majority/consent/responsibility - I think giving people a test to see if they should be allowed to vote is wide open to abuse and political bias. Who decides the questions, and crucially, what answers demonstrate sufficient 'political awareness'? It's an open door for elitism and oppression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    Sunday Politics Scotland on BBC just now:

    - The addition of 16 and 17 yr olds to the Scottish electorate will have no material bearing on the outcome

    - Independence polls this year started off as 60-40 against, and have worsened steadily to 63 - 37 against.

    It ain't gonna happen.

  • Comment number 718.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    When people say 16/17 year olds pay taxes, etc, it gives a grossly misleading picture of the reality. While you can get married at 16, most think this is too young. The legal age of marriage is fixed at 16 essentially because it has to be the same as the age of legal sexual consent and an older age for the latter would be unsustainable. Only 1 in 255 of 16-19 year olds actually get married.

  • Comment number 716.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    If we start treating 16 year old as adults and allowing them the vote, that age must then surely carry in all other walks of life. It would be difficult to allow them the vote and then restrict them elsewhere.They will be able to marry without permission, serve directly on the frontline in the forces, drink alcohol legally, be treated as adults in the courts and be sentenced to adult prisons

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    I don't see why the government should have a problem with giving 16-year-olds the vote: they have no problem taxing them. No taxation without representation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    709.LeftWingersAreEvil - ".................We cannot continue with mass immigration."

    It's a good job most other countries don't feel the same way - there's 14 Million MORE Brits abroad than foreigners living here (check out the stats on the ONS website).

    If you think Britain is full now you ain't nothing yet.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    The question if the young can be trusted with the vote is not the issue
    The question should be can we trust who we vote for

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    There would have been a better case for lowering the voting age thirty or forty years ago when many 16 and 17 years old were in full time work and paying taxes. Today hardly any are. So if we are to have "no representation without taxation" then we should leave the voting age as it is. The sixteen years old I know are not mature enough or knowledgeable enough to vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    Seems a shame to expose them even earlier to the same disillusionment the rest of us have to deal with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    This whole referendum is a red herring. It cannot logically be a referendum on true independence, because Alec Salmon wants Scotland to, yes, split from England, but he wants Scotland to be increasingly beholden to the European Union. He is another left-wing ideologue who wants to impose millions more migrants on this once great country.

    We cannot continue with mass immigration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    No matter how responsible you consider 16-year-olds to be, and no matter how desirable you consider Scottish separatism to be, it is utter nonsense, and probably illegal, to change the voting system as the result of a deal between Salmond and Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.


    You do realise most people in Scotland are in favour of the Union? This perception that we're all English haters is false. Indeed, a lot of people living here are English. I know some who are SNP supporters and members and others who are not.

    This isn't about race its about governance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    Absolutely not, as they are too easily influenced by their teachers, which would give the teacher a possible 30 - 40 votes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    "698. LeftWingersAreEvil"

    This is the kind 16 you wouldn't want to give the responsibility to vote.

  • Comment number 704.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    I'm 16, employed and somewhat interested in politics. I would like the option to vote for issues that affect me but i'm happy to waive this right as I feel my peers, and sometimes myself, are too easily influenced by the opinion of public figures, propaganda and biased articles. Before lowering the voting age we should use education to make us more resilient to external influences in the media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    Definitely not. I'm sixteen and 99 percent of the people in my year don't care about politics at all. Give them the vote and they'd either not turn up or not take the time to consider what would be best for the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    All of you saying no are blind. You're saying that because they can't drive/drink/fight/marry etc they shouldn't vote... How long is a term, 5 years. So within less than half of a term all these 16 year olds will be 18 and directly affected by the parties policies. No wonder the youth don't you.


Page 16 of 51


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