Throughout the EU referendum campaign, it was clear to see that the majority of young people were overwhelmingly in favour of Britain remaining in the EU. It has been estimated that 75% of 18-24 year olds voted to remain in Thursday’s vote. However, in spite of being granted the vote in the Scottish Parliament elections and the Scottish independence referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were not allowed to have their voice heard within the EU referendum.
A recent poll conducted by the Student Room just a day after the EU vote, found that 82% of 16 and 17 year olds would have voted to remain in the EU. With 1.46 million 16 and 17 year olds in the UK, and a difference of 1.2 million votes between the remain and the leave sides, it is clear that the outcome could have been different had they been granted the right to vote.
Last year an amendment to grant 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in the EU referendum was put forward to amend the European Union Referendum Bill by the House of Lords. This amendment was debated and overruled in the House of Commons. MP’s voted against 16 and 17 year olds being given the vote with 303 against and 253 in favour.
One of the arguments MP’s used to oppose this amendment included the idea that young people themselves don’t fully agree with this motion and don’t necessarily feel they should have the right to vote. This is absurd. The Scottish referendum campaign seen just under 110,000 16 and 17 year olds register to vote and an estimated 75% turnout within this age group. This shows that there is an appetite amongst this age range to get involved in politics and vote on the issues that will affect their future.
As we saw in the Scottish parliament elections and the Scottish independence referendum, giving young people the vote politically empowered and inspired them to be more actively involved in politics as they could finally vote on the issues that mattered to them. With institutions such as Youth Parliaments and active youth groups in many political parties it is clear that many young people do have an active interest in politics. The rise of social media and access to news and current affairs at the touch of a button means young people now, more than ever, have the ability to engage in politics.
Another argument put forward was the cost that would be involved. Again, this is laughable when you consider the cost that is now going to be involved in exiting the EU. MP’s also stated that they did not want it to be seen that they were trying to fix the outcome of the referendum by changing the voting age. The Scottish Government were not accused of trying to fix any vote by lowering the voting age and so it is questionable why this would be the case for this particular referendum. 16 year olds are deemed responsible enough to work, pay tax, marry, and have children. It is ludicrous to believe that people would assume that granting them suffrage would be an attempt to sway an outcome one way or another, especially in a decision as important as the EU referendum, where it will be young people who will have to deal with the consequences of Brexit for the longest period of time. Therefore, it is clear that the MP’s who voted against this amendment did not consider all of the facts when making their decision on this issue and did not consider the future of these young voters when making their decision.
The result of Thursday’s vote in which 17-18 year olds were excluded: Scotland voted to remain in the EU
It is not uncommon for debates on lowering the voter age to take a warped approach when debating this issue and ridiculous comparisons have been put forward between the right to vote and the inability to hold a bus license or purchase sparklers as relevant reasons not to grant them the vote. In opposition to this why should 16 and 17-year-old tax payers not be allowed to vote on how their tax is spent? It is a matter of principle. Tory MP’s who voted in disagreement with this amendment included the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt and Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell. Ridiculously, all of these MP’s were in the Remain Camp. Instead of focusing on partisan principles perhaps a more open minded approach should have been considered when voting on this amendment. This was a constitutional question that was voted for on Thursday and the decision not to grant the vote to 16 and 17 year olds has taken away a demographic of youthful excitement and interest that could have effectively swung voters to remain. You only need to look as far as the positive Remain campaign put forward by SNP Youth to see that Scotland’s young people are still fully engaged since our own Independence Referendum. The UK government has lost a vital opportunity to engage a whole new generation, UK-wide, by ignoring their interest rather than encouraging them.
Many SNP Youth members were unable to vote in the EU Referendum because of the exclusion of 16-17 year olds.
Young people will now have to bear the burden of an ageing voting population yet again. It is us, young people, who will have to deal with this decision in the future. I find it absolutely ludicrous that 16-17 year olds did not have the empowerment of the vote in a referendum that the people of Scotland did not even asked for. The only reassurances I can take from Thursday night is the confidence I have in the SNP Scottish government to empower 16-17 year olds with the vote in any future elections or referendums the Scottish government decide to “put on the table”.
SNP Youth Political Education Officer