Conor O’Neill: Lower voting age and energise debate

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I WANTED to vote in the European Parliament elections in Yorkshire in May, but I was only just past my 17th birthday so it wasn’t possible.

You can imagine I looked on with envy though as 16 and 17-year-olds were able to vote in the Scottish referendum a few months later.

I know there is a difference of opinion still about lowering the voting age in England, but I know it would be a good thing.

There are some good reasons for lowering the voting age: It is a right that 16 and 17-year-olds deserve to have (after all many pay tax and National insurance and I’m allowed to join the Army); it would lead to higher turnout in the longer term; and it would stimulate political engagement.

I know my school friends and me are mature and interested enough to take meaningful decisions in elections, in some cases we study it more than adults who vote all the time! So, it is only right for us to be able to vote as well.

Many young people are interested in politics at this age and with technology we can follow it much more easily. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube all make it easier for us to read, watch and think about things that are happening in the political landscape.

In Austria, for example, research shows political interest among young people aged 16 and 17 increased after they were granted the right to vote.

Lowering the voting age might lead to higher turnout in the long-term as schools and colleges could provide information and support, so leading to higher voting rates among young voters.

Evidence shows (again from Austria) that voting is a habit that is acquired early on in life and it is a habit that is rarely broken once it is there. Those who start out voting are likely to do so again, but those who fail to vote at their first election are less likely to pick up the habit later. Research after the Scottish referendum vote showed that 97 per cent of those 16 and 17-year-olds who voted plan to do so again.

Perhaps the most interesting reason for lowering the voting age would be to re-energise political debate and engagement in the UK.

This might be a bit of wishful thinking. We would need more reforms (such as a change to the voting system) to get more engagement in my opinion.

However, there is one thing that excites me and many of my contemporaries and that is the idea of devolution of powers away from London to Yorkshire.

The issue of devolution is one that won’t go away after the Scottish referendum and the debate on English votes. Having control over our own taxes and spending and having more say in our own affairs, is for me, the best option. Who knows how to run Yorkshire better than the people who live and work here? Why do we need others to decide what is best for us? We don’t.

We can have a fairer voting system that reflects what we choose here. We can spend money where Yorkshire needs it to be spent, not where London wants it to be spent.

It will no longer be a choice between one or the other.

Yorkshire has a population of a similar size to Scotland which seems to be a good size for good government – just look at the Nordic countries. Neither too large nor too small which means the people can influence the agenda and make it work.

I really like the idea of a Yorkshire assembly or Parliament. It seems a great idea to me that we can start with a blank sheet of paper of how we want it to work and what we want to do.

It shouldn’t be just about replicating the broken Westminster model in Yorkshire. So, instead, yes the voting age can be lowered as in Scotland, make a bigger role for wider civic society and make it more representative of Yorkshire society as a whole. That’s why the issue is exciting for me.

I will be old enough to vote in the General Election this May but I really think it’s time to lower the voting age for 16 and 17-year-olds. I think most people in Yorkshire would understand and support that idea.

Conor O’Neill is a sixth former at Crawshaw School, Pudsey, and can vote for the first time at next year’s general election.