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Scotland leaving the United Kingdom is a huge topic that is the talking point of the entire country. Almost everyone you meet in your day to day life will have some kind of opinion on Scotland. However on today’s article, I’m not going to focus on the opinion, but rather, the person giving it. Should 16 and 17 year olds be given the vote in Scotland?

The Handsard Society Is charity whose main focus is to promote debate and democracy in parliament as well educating school children about parliament and creating projects where they discuss and explore political issues. They also provide training for charities, companies, journalists and other organisations.

Last week, The Hansard Society hosted a debate on the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 years olds and what implications this might have on the rest of the United Kingdom? They planned to focus on three main aspects; firstly what impact would this have on voter turnout?  Would there turn out make any difference to the result? Second, does the extension of the franchise set a president for the future elections in the rest of the United Kingdom? Could a low turnout in Scotland set back the campaign for votes at 16 in the rest of the UK? And finally what are the potential impacts on the teaching of political literacy? Would schools end up becoming hunting grounds for votes? Would that end up putting pressure on teachers and is our education system able to deal with that?

On the panel for the debate was Professor John Curtis, Professor of politics at The University of Strathclyde. Susanna Giner, Director of the Youth Media Agency, a social enterprise which raises the profile of young people in the UK. Alan Trench, honorary fellow in the school of social and political science at the University of Edinburgh. Matteo Bergamini, Executive Director and Founder of ShoutOutUK and Peter Kellner President of YouGov and a member of the Hansard Society board of trustees.

The debate started with each member of the panel giving an address before the floor was opened for a question and answer session.

John Curtis opens his speech with saying that is not going to be for or against the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year old but rather lay down the facts. In Scotland there are 113,000 young voters who make up 2.7% of the electorate. However if young people only make up 2.7% are they doing to feel as if their vote counts?

Curtis continues, when asked, 74% of people questioned said that they were certain that they were going to vote in the Scottish referendum. However only 41% of young people said that they were certain to vote. Curtis also asked if young people do turn out and vote, are they going to change the outcome? The overall vote has to be at 49.7% before they can tip the balance, but right now the polls do not look close as the result is currently at 37%

Susanna Giner followed by introducing the youth media agency who represents 102 youth media organizations across the UK. Giner is absolutely for votes at 16 and that she feels that if 16 year olds in Scotland get the vote then 16 years olds in the UK should get the vote as well. Giner feels that young people have been discriminated against for too long, Giner also talked about a twitter conversation that she had with a youth worker who feels that young people are facing the same challenges that Women faced in 1928, ‘ignorance and fear from the people who have power.’

Giner also talked about newspapers and perception of young people has never been at a lower point by saying that if you believe Mat Hastings from The Daily Mail “years of liberal dogma have spawned a generation of amoral, uneducated, welfare dependant brutalised youngsters. Yet there are more young people volunteering than ever before in the UK. Giner went to an event on the London Mayor elections that were hosted by Bite the Ballot and Boris Johnson didn’t turn up. There were around 500 young people who felt annoyed and upset, who felt like they couldn’t vote because their vote didn’t matter.

Alan Trench talked about the legal history of the Scottish referendum. In the May 2011 Scottish elections, the SNP won a majority in the Scottish parliament. At that point it became inevitable that there would have to a push towards a referendum. The SNP had been preparing for this since 2007 with the National Conversation.  Enable young people to be able to vote will enable the SNP to say that this is a made in Scotland referendum.

Matteo Bergamini first mentioned how a vote on young people getting the vote was moved through the house quite quickly for young it’s an issue has played on their minds for quite a long time, the decisions made in Scotland are going to have a massive impact on their life’s. A lot of young people don’t recognise that politics has a direct link to every aspect of your life. You then start to realise that there is a connection between what you care about and the political system, which you didn’t realise before.

Bergamini continued onto the subject of young people and the London riots, the majority of the riots were in their late 20’s yet it was the younger 16-24 year olds taking the blame, the very group that was volunteering to clean up the day after.

If we are a democracy but young people are leaving school not understanding how the political system works, how democracy works, or how to get involved with local issues. It is like having a computer but not knowing how it works. It starts to become alien and you don’t want to get involved. As a newspaper, ShoutOutUK started a campaign call politics in schools which shows that are many different way to get involved with politics and society, and that are ways to change the country.

Peter Kellner started with a personal comment; Kellener reached his 18th birthday during the 1964 general election campaign and wasn’t able to vote during the second election 18 months later, before the voting age was lower in 1968. When surveyed, some of those who are least keen on lowing the voting age are the ones who have turned 18 and missed out.

Kellner suggested that if you get an energetic campaign going into schools and youth organisations that you might get a different dynamic. Kellner also observed that when a society is divided on a subject that you tend to find that the status quo would gain ground, as poling day approaches such examples include Scotland in 1979, Australia staying in the monarchy and Spain on NATO. Kellner said that 16-17 year olds could be slightly more pro-independence then older voters and while the introduction of 16-17 year old votes would damage the ‘yes’ vote, it would not be by very much.

With that the floor was opened, the first question came from the campaign director for the Campaign for English Parliament who asked if 16 year olds in Scotland decide the future of the UK, it’s the first time I’ve seen the title where the UK might cease to exist, which has a massive impact on the lives of 16 year old as we could see a massive change for the whole of the UK to break up. Do you not think that it is insulting for the people of England not to be included, while the 16 and 17 year olds in England who have to pay full tuition fees while they are seeing the 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland deciding where the vote is? Do you not think the long term implications of what the SNP are trying to do, is successfully breaking the future of a unified group of countries coming together? 

John Curtis took this question, he said tuition fees have been very well wrote about in the last 10 days or so. The level of maintenance support that goes to Scottish is much less then it is for England, Wales or Northern Island. Curtis continued by saying that the students who are worst off are Scottish students who decide to go to universities in England. Scotland doesn’t charge tuition fees but the Scottish government provides less maintenance support.

Curtis then argued that there is a distinction to be made between Northern Island and Scotland which is that the UK government has long accepted the right that Northern Island has to succeed from the Union. We now have an acceptance that Scotland has the right to succeed and that by extension so does England and that if either country does choose to succeed that no other country has the right to object. A grey area is where Scotland could just simply vote on more devolution.

Curtis would be delighted if he could see the long term consequences of 16-17 year olds getting the vote.  He finishes by saying that it’s their future that’s at stake and not that of the pension population that currently dominates the elections.

Other questions were raised; Is there a president set for a EU referendum in 2017? Would the government have a case to answer if 16 and 17 year olds would not be allowed to vote in the referendum? The second question was, has there been any research into the effect that 16 and 17 year olds voting have on the rest of the electorate? 

BY: Tom Sanderson

Interested in the organisations on the Panel: