News > The case for votes at 16 – no room for plausible deniability

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  • 31st July 2015 - 12:22 GMT
Participative democracy and civil dialogue, Post 2015 Agenda

The case for votes at 16 – no room for plausible deniability

At the June 2015 Annual General Meeting of the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), former Scottish First Minister and current MP Alex Salmond was invited to speak to MSYPs. In his speech, among other things, he made a very convincing point about the Votes at 16 debate. It was over.

Several months earlier, on Thursday 18 September, when 75% of 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland went to the polling stations to cast their vote on their nation’s future, every counter argument against Votes at 16 had seemingly fallen apart.

No argument
The claim that 16 and 17 year olds are not engaged enough in politics has been proven wrong, the claim that 16 and 17 year olds cannot make informed choices on politics has been proven wrong, the claim that 16 and 17 year olds will not bother to turn out and vote has been proven wrong.

Critics of Votes at16 have been proven wrong.

And yet, they continue to oppose. And how? Denial. It’s not that they simply plead ignorance of the example of the Scottish Independence Referendum. Rather, they just ignore it. When SNP MPs raise the point again and again, no counter claim can be given. The question is merely avoided.

Adding up the electoral math in the UK debate
The upcoming UK Referendum on the EU already seems to be mirroring the Scottish Referendum in many ways. It asks a very fundamental question about what a nation is, how a nation should be governed and what a nation aspires to be. The people will answer these questions – and again, emotions will run high.

In 2014, 16 and 17 year olds were deemed mature enough to answer them. Yet somehow, 16 and 17 year olds are not deemed mature enough to answer them in 2016/2017. As Alex Salmond stated in his speech to the Scottish Youth Parliament last month; a Scottish person who had just turned 16 in 2014 would have been allowed to vote in the referendum, while not being allowed to vote in the General Election of 2015 by which time they would be 17. Similarly, following the official lowering of the voting age in Scotland, a 16 year old will be allowed the vote in the Holyrood elections of 2016, and will not be able to vote in the EU Referendum, which may take place that same year.

It is, essentially, electoral hokey-cokey; in-out-in-out-shake it all about. Is this really how seriously such important questions of suffrage are taken?

Let’s engage our youth
Now these arguments are not merely ‘British’ or ‘Scottish’ arguments that should affect only British and Scottish politics; they are universal arguments. In Austria, Votes at 16 is already a reality; in Malta Votes at 16 is a reality in local elections. The European Youth Forum and National Youth Councils all over Europe are calling for the same thing.

If 16 and 17 year olds can vote in large swathes in Scotland, they can do so in France, they can do so in Denmark, they can do so in Greece (where a vote was recently held on, perhaps, one of the most important matters in Greek history – shouldn’t 16 and 17 year olds have been a part of that?). With the House of Lords set to fight tooth and nail for Votes at 16 in the EU Referendum, it looks likely that it might just become a reality.

We should be working with our young people, to engage them as much as possible in our society. The European Union is well positioned to play a global role in leading such progress. And, if 16 and 17 year olds are allowed to vote on the future of the European Union; they should also be allowed to vote on who enters its parliament.

Behind South America, Europe has the most countries opting for Votes at 16. This is also a global challenge. We should strive for a future in which our youth have a voice. It is their future too. Many youth councils take part around the world in which engaged youth speak eloquently and passionately about their hopes and desires for our global future. One aspect of the European Year for Development is about fostering a direct involvement in global challenges –what better way than to encourage greater youth participation in our societal decision making?

At the end of the day, the debate around Votes at 16 is over, the opponents have lost, it is time that they accept the truth, accept defeat gracefully and help make the way for Votes at 16 in the UK, in the EU, and eventually, in every democratic nation.


The Young European Federalists – JEF aims at bringing Europe closer to the Citizens and the Citizens closer to Europe. Participation is of utter importance to become a full part of society and JEF believes that this means lowering the voting age to the school leaving age when people can begin working. See more on JEF’s demands here.


Find out more about the European Movement Members’ EYD blog here.

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