A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Next week, the people of Scotland will determine their yet undefined fate. But the implications of this referendum are far-reaching, especially in relation to youth voice and political engagement. Youth Focus: North East’s Communications Officer Alexis Forsyth – born and raised in Scotland’s former capital, Stirling – takes a closer look at the debate…
As you will have undoubtedly noticed in the media this week, the debates around Scotland’s independence have really cranked up a notch, with the ‘yes’ campaign appearing to gather strong momentum in the polls. As for the ‘better together’ campaign, this seems to be languishing a little, which led to Westminster’s political heavyweights heading north of the border to push the ‘no’ vote forward.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty around what an independent Scotland might look like in terms of its economy, trade, welfare and currency. Even after hours of watching live debates and indulging in copious amounts of reading, I’m still unclear on a number of issues; a sentiment I’m sure many other Scots will be feeling as the referendum looms.
Irrespective of the political spin made by both campaigns, and wherever your heart (or head?) may lie – what has been interesting to watch unfold is the way in which the referendum has galvanised a new-found interest in politics among the Scots, with a record number of people registering to vote.
Specifically, the referendum is a monumental moment in terms of youth voice – with 16 and 17-year olds eligible to take part and have their say on Scotland’s future. This is the first time anywhere in the UK that those under 18 have had the franchise on a major matter of state.
There’s been much speculation over the lowering of the voting age and the role that this age group may play in tipping the balance in favour of a yes or no vote. Just this week, Channel 4 reported that the yes vote was ahead by 14 percentage points among young people, based on averages of YouGov and TNS polls.
So what are the reasons against 16 and 17 year olds hitting the polling stations next week?
Some people perceive 16 and 17 year olds as being unable to make a well-informed decision. They are seen as ‘too immature’ and do not have enough life experience to make such an important judgement.
In one newspaper, a columnist asked his readers if they would have given their 16-year-old self the vote. This is something I have pondered over…and I came to the conclusion that yes, my 16 year old self would have relished the opportunity to become involved in such an historical political debate.
It appears that current teenagers are seizing this opportunity, with 7000 youngsters taking part in the BBC’s Big Big Debate in Glasgow this week, which was a chance for them to quiz politicians and leading figures from both campaigns. An observation from barrister and writer Rupert Myers is summed up in this tweet: “These young adults are asking more informed questions more eloquently than any adult Question Time audience I’ve ever seen #bigbigdebate.”
Lowering the age, according to some, can improve political engagement and increase the likelihood of people voting in later life. It’s also pointed out that at 16 you can marry, pay tax and join the army so why shouldn’t you have the right to vote, too?
It seems that it is too often instilled in us that 18 is the cusp of adulthood – cue big 18th birthday celebrations and traditional ‘key to the door’ themed presents. Arguably, the transition into becoming an adult can stretch into your 20s, but 18 is still seen by many as a defining age from which the existing voting threshold in the UK shouldn’t budge, because, if you lower the age, where do you draw the line?
After changing the voting age for the Scottish referendum, this decision looks set to reignite the debate for lowering the voting age across the rest of the UK, too. But surely any debate that shines a spotlight on youth voice can only be a good thing?
As a Scot who now lives in the North East, I am unable to cast a vote next week, so instead I will be waiting nervously to see what Scotland decides. One thing that’s for sure though is that whatever your thoughts on the voting age – next week’s referendum will impact everyone, whether you live north or south of the border.
Youth Focus: North East