Sixteen and Seventeen Year Olds should vote in the EU Referendum

Labour Party

I was gratified to see that the Prime Minister has conceded that the House of Commons should vote on whether 16 and 17 year olds should be eligible to vote in the referendum on EU membership.

He is, of course, personally opposed to extending the franchise for the EU vote, notwithstanding the fact that this group voted in the referendum on whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom.

As we know, Cameron’s argument is that the vote on EU membership should be done on the same basis as that used for general elections. Although such an arrangement would clearly favour the Conservatives, it is difficult to understand his logic, particularly in the light of the extension of the franchise for Scotland. The EU referendum is not a political party contest as such. It is rather a vote by the British people about an issue of vital importance to them.

Research published today examining the potential voting patterns of 16-17 year olds in Scotland, revealed that two thirds would have voted in the general election had they had the opportunity to do so. Young people are engaged in politics. The fact that turn out in the 18 – 25 year old group is low in general elections says more about traditional politics in our country than young people’s attitudes towards their lives, how they are governed and what they care about.

Many 16 and 17-year-olds are entering the world of work whether it is part time or full time; they are expected to pay taxes, contribute to national insurance, they are allowed to start a family, fight for their country live independently and get a mortgage. In other words they are allowed to participate in almost all areas of civic social and economic life and are treated as, and have the same responsibilities as, adults yet they are not allowed to participate in political life beyond supporting a political party.

The referendum in Scotland generated immense enthusiasm, the like of which has not been seen for a long time in elected politics. If the EU vote generates anything like the liveliness seen in Scotland that, in itself, will be a victory.

Britain outside the EU would be much diminished. We rely on the European Parliament for not only our trade but also our place in the world.

Let’s be truly democratic and give 16 and 17 years olds a vote on their future.