UNTIL I had teenagers of my own, I couldn’t see the case for bringing down the voting age to 16.
This was probably because I only had the memory of my own fervent political views in the lower sixth to go on. Looking back from the lofty heights of adulthood, I wouldn’t want to wish them on anybody.
Then my son, Jack, who turns 17 this summer, started to develop his own very passionate opinions, swiftly followed by his sister, Lizzie, who is 13 and of a rather more rational bent. Despite their differences in approach, I’m pleased to see that they have inherited their mother’s love of a good political debate.
And I’m even more pleased to report that in putting together such a persuasive argument about why young people should have the vote, they have managed to make their crusty old mother change her mind about youth enfranchisement.
Blame Brexit, yet again. My two have devised a very convincing case for how things would have turned out at the EU referendum if a younger demographic had been allowed to cast their vote.
In short, we would still be full members of the European Union and the country wouldn’t have wasted so much time and so much money attempting to enact a referendum decision which was not only made on the tightest of margins, but left out a significant number of young adults whose natural inclination would have been to stay full members of Europe.
Their instinct is backed up by evidence from a poll conducted by online wiki and The Student Room, on the day the Brexit result was revealed, which found that 82 per cent of voters in the 16 to 17-year-old age group would have voted to Remain if they had been enfranchised.
As there are 1.46 million 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK, the proportion in favour of staying in the European Union would have matched the 1.2 million difference between out and in, potentially changing the result completely
In addition, 75 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted Remain, with the Leave result largely swung by the over-60s demographic. As Jack points out, it is his generation who will inherit the decision and it seems grossly unfair for it to have been decided on his behalf without him having a say.
In this, his views chime with campaigners in Scotland who successfully managed to lower the voting age to 16 for the independence referendum in 2014 – this clearly influenced the result. There is no logic, Jack argues, for under-18 voting to have been allowed in this case, but not in another, especially one which comes with consequences which reach much further in global terms.
You might not think that those few years between the ages of 16 and 18 mean very much, but there are two ways to look at this crucial period of late adolescence. It is both a time of transition and the point at which strong convictions begin to take root.
As I recall – and observe at close quarters daily – it is also a time of great frustration when you are told repeatedly you are no longer a child, but are still treated like one, with the additional responsibilities of knowing that you can legally have sex, marry or enter a civil partnership, join the armed forces, work full-time, pay taxes and national insurance and leave home, but not vote.
By all these measures we begin to establish our own solid identity. And the process these days is taking place against a backdrop of rapid social change, made even more powerful by the communicative power of the internet. Really, is it any wonder that so many young people are confused, disorientated and angry? I’m not saying that giving the vote to under-18s would immediately bring an end to the horrific rise in knife crime, for example, but it would certainly go some way towards reducing the feelings of isolation and disaffection which lead to its proliferation.
This is not necessarily a liberal viewpoint. Surely, one of the first principles of broadly-conservative political philosophy acknowledges the need for a person to be accountable to themselves and what they stand for?
And don’t for a moment assume that I am an indulgent parent who allows her offspring to rule the roost. On matters of manners and respect and behaving like responsible members of society, I’m totally hardcore. On this issue, however, I am ready to bend.
And please, if you’re in the Leave camp, don’t think that this is some underhand way to promote the cause of Remain should a second referendum be called. What I’m talking about is much more than deciding where to put the X in the box; it is about the legacy which we are leaving for our young people, the kind of country we want them to live in and their place in the world.
If we expect our politicians to support ‘‘the will of the people’’, then it really should be all the people who contribute meaningfully to society. If we’ve learned nothing much that is positive from Brexit, we should at least accept that.