A baby, a rifle and a car – but no vote

Posted on October 10, 2012

An unexpected outcome of the negotiations around the Scottish Independence Referendum is that votes for 16 year olds has suddenly popped up again. A round of huffing and puffing has commenced, with varying degrees of legitimacy.

There is justified concern that this is not really the way to go about revolutionising our constitution – who is allowed to vote should be a matter for Parliament, not something to be agreed in a bout of policy Border Reiving by Westminster and Holyrood.

The mechanism by which it is being introduced is unattractive, but the idea of votes at 16 is a good one in itself.

Deciding when an individual goes from legal childhood into fully responsible adulthood is always tricky. Any rule will inevitably be arbitrary. No matter how much Great Aunts may ask “how does it feel to be older?”, the answer is of course that someone is no more competent at voting on the day of their 18th birthday than they were the day before.

But given that arbitrary lines must be drawn for when the State recognises us as adults, we should at least try to ensure they are drawn in a consistent manner.

At the moment the qualifying ages for various kinds of legal and social rights and responsibilities are a dreadful muddle. You can leave school and go into the workplace, paying full rates of tax, at 16 – as long as you continue some kind of training. You can join the army at 16, though you can’t be sent to fight until 18. Of course, you can also legally have sex and have children from 16.

These are all signs that we think of those over 16 as adults, so why do we remain in denial when it comes to the right to vote? It is absurd that a 17-year-old serving soldier, working and paying tax, driving a car, and bringing up a child is currently told that he or she is not deemed mature or responsible enough to vote.

Opponents of lowering the voting age argue that 16- or 17-year-olds wouldn’t make informed decisions about who to vote for. In some instances, that may be the case – but it is certainly the case that there are plenty of 46- and 47-year-olds who may well not read the manifestos before voting, either. Arbitrary systems are like that, and if we removed the vote from every age group which has some wildly irresponsible members then we’d swiftly take the vote away from everyone.

Instead, let’s look to the plentiful evidence that 16- and 17-year-olds are very much capable of rational, responsible behaviour. Our society has weighed that evidence in deciding to allow them to work, pay tax, have babies and so on, but has been unaccountably stubborn on democratic rights. It is high time to equalise the voting age and iron out this anomaly.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Opinion, Politics, Westminster


14 Responses

  1. Paul Perrin:

    But… You can’t drive unless you pass a driving test, if you are a parent at 16 you may be legal, but you are probably very, very stupid, army is a ‘job’ where you take orders in itself not a qualification to vote.

    At 16 you may be considered an adult, but you clearly have no *experience* of *being* an adult…

    I would rather separate law making powers and tax raising powers – at 16 you can vote for lawmakers, but would need additional qualification to vote for tax-raisers (age, taxpaying, property ownership etc… something like that)

    11.10.2012 13:21 Reply

  2. CG:

    Conservatives don’t want 16-17 year olds to get the vote because they are much more likely to vote for other parties than the Tories.

    11.10.2012 13:43 Reply

    • markwallace:

      Err, CG – your comment would be quite dumb at the best of times, but you’ve left it under a pro-votes at 16 article *written by a Tory*. #fail

      12.10.2012 12:08 Reply

  3. bella gerens:

    Would it be horribly cliche if I said “no taxation without representation”?

    Not exactly the same concept, but really, anyone in a position to earn income that will be spent by the state should really have the right to vote for the people doing the spending. This includes 16-year-olds.

    Before people jump all over me, I do not necessarily mean the corollary—that only those paying income tax should have the vote.

    11.10.2012 14:01 Reply

    • Simon:

      Paying CGT or inheritance tax should do – perhaps even council tax.

      12.10.2012 18:03 Reply

  4. Simon:

    Having a child is legal at any age. It is not illegal for someone under 16 to have sex : it is illegal, though, for anyone to have sex with somebody under 16.

    “Vote ! Now you are old enough to be really shafted !”

    12.10.2012 18:01 Reply

  5. SP:

    I agree! 16-17 year olds should be allowed to vote as at this age we all have a responsibility in life to look after ourselves and we turn into mature adults. We are much more capable to look after ourselves, at this age we look at colleges and make decisions, so the decsions made by the goverment have a personal impact on us aswell.
    However I dont agree with having babies and paying tax at 16-17. This is mainly because we’re maturing at this age and need to focus on the start of our life as a adult and having children and taking care of them isnt the main focus of our life at this point. Additionally, I also believe that paying taxes add pressure onto us and we cant cope with this much at this age.

    21.11.2012 15:55 Reply

  6. Matthew:

    No it just won’t work! Sixteen year old people would not be able to handle the pressure of an eighteen year old. Young people already have so many things to do and it would be adding more pressure.

    21.11.2012 15:55 Reply

  7. Nema:

    I disagree because I think at the age of 16, isn’t suitable for teenagers to vote because most young people have a lot of things on their plate such as exams and looking for a part-time job – adding additional pressure of the responsibility of an 18 year old to a 16 year old. this may lead to stress and depression which may lead to more serious issues.

    21.11.2012 15:57 Reply

  8. Cassius Raybe:

    I agree that 16 yr old should be able to vote as they can give informed and rational decisions when voting.However, I think that some 16 yr olds shouldnt be able to as they may still be immature and will be swayed much more biased and uninformed decisision that will ultimately determine the future of their government.

    21.11.2012 15:58 Reply

  9. JohnTheRipper:

    Someone who votes will pick the person they think will bring good changes to the country. I think that a 16 year old will be old enough to make a judgement to who will and who wont bring these changes. I do not deny the fact that they may vote for someone randomly but so can everyone else.

    21.11.2012 15:58 Reply

  10. Labdhi and Cleon:

    16-17 year olds should be allowed to vote because, they are very much capable of rational and responsable behaviour. I’m passionate about what I am talking about and I truly believe that 16-17 year olds are mature therefore they do have a mind of their own. People from this age group who vote, will influence the voting polls depending on laws like university fees which is relavant because it will effect the lives in the wrong run. They are very aware of what is happening around them and they do have strong opinions of what is right and what is wrong. So why shoudn’t 16-17 year olds be allowed to vote?

    21.11.2012 15:58 Reply

  11. Labdhi and Cleon (refined):

    16-17 year olds should be allowed to vote because, they are very much capable of rational and responsable behaviour. I’m passionate about what I am talking about and I truly believe that 16-17 year olds are mature therefore they do have a mind of their own. People from this age group who vote, will influence the voting polls depending on laws like university fees which is relavant because it will effect their lives in the long run. They are very aware of what is happening around them and they do have strong opinions of what is right and what is wrong. So why shoudn’t 16-17 year olds be allowed to vote?

    21.11.2012 16:00 Reply

  12. Top 10 Youth Work Blog Posts Of The Week - Oct 13 - Youth Workin' It:

    […] Crash Bang Wallace: A baby, a rifle and a car, but no vote – Also from the UK is this post about whether the age for voting should be lowered from the […]

    05.06.2013 21:57 Reply

Leave a Reply