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by Tom Freeman
20 January 2015
In youth we learn

In youth we learn

In a rare expression of what seems like genuine cooperation, the political parties united this week to push through a piece of legislation. Extending the electoral franchise to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote at Holyrood elections has become one of the first of the Smith Commission’s recommendations to have been enacted. Both Nicola Sturgeon and the Labour party urged David Cameron to press ahead with devolving the power with all due speed, and tout suite he did so.

“This deal, which is being delivered to a tight timetable, shows just what is possible when there is political will on both sides,” said Nicola Sturgeon. Meanwhile Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael was touring the country asking teenagers for their views. Perhaps the 100,000 of them voting in the Scottish independence referendum wasn’t enough of a sample size for him. Still, his tour can’t go as badly as Labour’s attempt to engage young voters, the #myfutureScotland hashtag on twitter last week, which was hijacked by young cybernats. The topic trended on the social media site across the UK, but not in the way Labour hoped.

Giving young people’s opinions weight is dangerous for politicians, of course, because they’ll invariably tell them where to get off. Give them the vote, and they can really upset the applecart.

After meeting students at Edinburgh College yesterday, Carmichael said: “For myself the case for votes at 16 is irresistible and I have no doubt the young people I met today will go on to shape the future of our country for the better.”

Given the Scottish cross-party unity on the matter, which will see 16 year-olds who can already live on their own, fight for their country, get married, have children and start to learn to drive also vote for MSPs, you have to wonder why the age group isn’t getting to vote in the General Election in May. Well, the same David Cameron who rushed through the devolution of the power to Holyrood also doesn’t back it for Westminster elections.

At Prime Minister’s questions last week he said: "Now we've said that we should respect the views of the Scottish Parliament [and] the Welsh Parliament, and we will devolve those powers over voting age.

"In this House I'm very happy for us to have a vote. Personally I think the right age is 18, but I'm very happy to listen to the debate, to listen to the arguments and to put them forward.”

A case of mixed signals, but perhaps his focus groups suggest not many of them would vote Conservative?

Along with public ownership of the health service, votes for teenagers has support across all the parties of the Scottish Parliament. The old divides are a reserved issue. 

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