Votes at 16

September 23, 2014 3:53 PM
By Sal Brinton

In his Labour Conference speech today Ed Miliband has just decided that 16 year olds are mature enough to vote. A mere 25 years behind the Lib Dems, who debated it in the mid 90s, and have been consistently proposing it ever since. Better late than never.

It was clear hearing from Lib Dem friends involved in hustings and question time sessions in schools and colleges throughout Scotland over the last couple of years that 16-18 year olds took their right to vote in the Independence Referendum very seriously, wanted information, debated the issues and their turnout was high.

I am not surprised. I've always said that 16 was the logical age to start voting. We all know that at 16 you are eligible to pay tax, work, have sex, marry (with parents' consent in England, but not needed in Scotland and Wales), and to join the armed services - but not to vote. For those of us from families interested in politics, that first occasion of voting, assuming you are at home, is a rite of passage. I've seen many families arrive together at polling stations.

At my school we had weekly compulsory current affairs. We learned about the politics of the week, the big issues and the fun stories, and we learned to debate amongst ourselves. For most of us, though, we had left school before we could exercise our vote, and many of us had also left home. I turned 18 in 1973 and in our house I vigorously opposed my father's Tory views, and I can remember proudly voting Liberal in the local elections. To his credit, my father always encouraged me to vote even though our beliefs were so different (in fact, when I was first elected as a Lib Dem councillor in 1993 on Cambridgeshire County Council, he sent me some flowers, saying 'Congratulations, dammit!').

One of the reasons I support votes at 16 is that young people are still at school or college, but most will still be living at home. If they have had citizenship/civics classes at school, there is a stronger chance that they will vote themselves, whether or not their families have a tradition of voting. I'd like to see hustings with local council candidates in schools, not just parliamentary ones, and even council mock elections in schools: 16 year olds use local government services just the same as the rest of us.

So, only the Conservatives to go amongst the major parties. Sadly, I suspect it might take slightly longer for that day to dawn! the photo is from 2010 when I was talking about Votes at 16 to Watford Girls Grammar School.
Votes at 16 at Watford Girls Grammar