Voting. You used to need to be wealthy to get a vote in the UK, until people started going on marches, chucking themselves at racehorses and generally kicking up an almighty fuss. Nowadays we can all vote in general elections provided we’re aged eighteen or over and are classed as UK citizens. Seems like strong (albeit hard-earned) progress, though some would still say it’s not enough.
Following the success of Alex Salmond’s bid to include 16 and 17 year olds in the upcoming vote on Scottish independence, the long-standing debate on whether the voting age for UK general elections should be lowered to 16 has become something of a hot topic. We sent out some emails and headed into the city centre to see how York’s young people felt about the issue.
On the whole, the resounding response to our vox popping was a ‘yes, we deserve the right to vote’, with one of the seventeen year olds we interrogated arguing “I work full time like anyone over eighteen does, so how is it fair that they get the vote and I don’t?” Whilst the vast majority of the people we talked to seemed to prescribe to this view, there were a few who bucked the trend, with a handful expressing a total apathy towards politics – a fixable problem eloquently considered in an email response to our questions from All Saints Sixth Form student Robyn Taylor McEwan, who we hope will come and write for us in the near future: “I think that the issue is more to do with educating ages 16/17 on politics than lowering the voting age, as throughout secondary school there isnt a single lesson where we are taught about it. Without being informed, many young people will be uninterested or unaware, especially if they come from a background where their family don’t discuss political matters. I’m aware that in sixth form the option of studying politics is given but, without knowledge, it’s difficult for young people to gain that interest. If just one lesson every fortnight was dedicated to educating young people in secondary school about politics, the option of having the chance to vote may be a very good idea.”
There’s a clear divide in opinion here – with some 16 and 17 year olds eager for the vote, either through political interest or sheerly out of principle and others seemingly totally uninterested in politics. With the calls for the voting age to be lowered now to be considered by the Electoral Commission, change might be around the corner.