Votes at 16

I don’t agree with Alex Salmond on much. I don’t think that breaking up Britain is a good idea. I also don’t think that I should have to pay more than my counterparts in France, Italy or Lithuania to attend a Scottish university, for that matter. But I digress. Where we do agree – and where I think the old Cheshire Cat look-alike is absolutely bang on the money – is in his belief that 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum. I appreciate that it is a cynical manoeuvre obviously intended to gerrymander the outcome of the vote. Nevertheless, it is right that 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum. Because 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote, full stop.

I must declare a vested interest at this point. I’m 17. This means that I can, should I choose, legally get a job, have sex, get married and join the Army (although not then have a drink to celebrate). It also means that I can drive. So I’m considered responsible enough to drive on the Queen’s highway, regularly risking both my own life and the lives of others, but I’m not considered responsible enough to have a say in the way I’m governed. This is a non sequitur.

The counter-argument to this is that it’s not necessarily a matter of responsibility, but of knowledge. Most sixth-formers, the retort goes, don’t have the political nous or know-how to use their vote in a sensible way. They might flock in their droves to vote for a party simply on the basis that the party’s leader looked good in a 90-minute television debate, for example. It’s a fair point, even if it does kind of attack the very ethos of a democratic society. Therefore, in response, I offer a modest proposal.

Physical Education (PE) is a compulsory element of the school timetable. We may not have liked it, but we all did it, and most of us saw the point of doing it. In the light of British triumphs at the Olympics, moreover, we recognise that it’s important that every child in the country carries on doing it. Here’s my idea then: how about we put Political Education (PE) on there as well? I’m not going to devise the curriculum now, but it would involve learning about Parliament, how laws are passed, what the major political parties stand for, and so on. It would be pretty basic, of course, but because it would be compulsory, it would mean that all our young people were able to vote constructively. Plus, it would mean that they were more likely to vote, putting to an end all this talk of apathetic youngsters who wouldn’t bother to walk to a polling station once every five years even if they were allowed.

And then- guess what- we would have no excuse not to follow Austria, Brazil and Nicaragua (yes, Nicaragua) and welcome a whole new tranche of eager electors into our glorious democracy. Over to you, Mr. Cameron.

Reece Edmends is a Liberal Youth member in Staffordshire. He formerly studied at Newcastle-under-Lyme School and will be taking up a place at university in 2013. He enjoys politics, literature, history, music and golf.

This article is solely the view of the author. It is not representative of the views of Liberal Democrat party, Liberal Youth or the editorship of the Libertine.

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