Over on his blog, Stephen Williams MP has revealed he will once again attempt to lower the voting age to 16 for UK elections and referenda.
Williams makes some valid points about its successful operation elsewhere, on the maturity of young adults and their political awareness through organisations like the UK Youth Parliament. But whilst votes at 16 has been a longstanding aspiration of the Liberal Democrats, it could be perceived as a desperate attempt to reconnect with the younger demographic following their u-turn on tuition fees.
Many remarked alterations to the franchise for the Scottish Independence Referendum was an attempt to gerrymander the vote (subsequent polling has shown this would backfire) and for Nationalists to cynically curry favour with young people.
Indeed, where had the sudden desire to ‘empower’ and ‘enfranchise’ [insert meaningless buzzword here] young people come from? After all, the SNP effectively deemed them as too infantile to understand the obvious health consequences of smoking cigarettes by upping the purchasing age from 16 to 18 and then sought to increase the purchasing age for booze from 18 to 21. One Nationalist MSP even ludicrously proposed a curfew on young drivers under 25 (good on LYS for taking them to task).
One would expect liberal voices to challenge such liberty eroding moves yet in his article Stephen Williams said,
“There are good health reasons for controlling access to alcohol and tobacco.”
Hold on. You can be deemed mature enough to participate in an election and understand the main policy debates including, one assumes, health policy, yet be too immature to fully understand the consequences of smoking fags or drinking lager? It seems hypocritical to confer rights on one hand whilst restricting them on the other. If they are young adults, we should allow them to exercise personal responsibility. I believe young people have the capacity to make sensible and informed decisions about their own life but it is puzzling that some advocates of votes at 16 don’t seem to agree.
Votes at 16 won’t help the Lib Dems suddenly re-engage with young people. I’m not inherently against the idea of extending the franchise but we should look at the rights of young people in their totality rather than an à la carte approach. Within the confines of a blog post, I tentatively suggest:
- Allowing young adults to make their own decisions about how they lead their life. In response to a YouGov poll last year, only 17% of 18-24 year olds believed politicians and civil servants were well-equipped to make personal decisions on their behalf. They reject the Nanny State; so liberate them from it
- Don’t return to opportunistic and unaffordable pledges aimed at students like scrapping tuition fees
- Instil a little intergenerational equity into policy and share the burden of cuts
- Challenge negative perceptions surrounding young people on issues such as anti-social behaviour and binge drinking
- But most of all, inspire them. The age-old liberal values of personal freedom, civil liberties, peace and internationalism sound pretty appealing to young ears.