Votes for all!

I am firmly persuaded that giving the vote to 16 and 17-year olds is one of the factors having a transformational effect on Scotland’s political culture. It seems to stand to reason that the greater the participation in the democratic process, the more government will come to reflect the needs, priorities and aspirations of the people. That has happened in Scotland as a consequence of proportional representation. Adding more groups to the electorate is bound to enhance a virtuous cycle in which better government encourages greater engagement and greater engagement leads to better government.

But it is a mistake to talk about “giving” the vote to 16 and 17-year olds. It is surely better that we should think in terms of having stopped withholding the vote from them. If we truly believe in popular sovereignty and participative democracy then our starting position must be that everybody is entitled to vote. There should be no requirement to argue for giving any individual or group a vote. Every individual in a polity must be considered enfranchised by default. The onus is then on those who would deny the vote to any individual or group. And, given the seriousness of what they propose, the case they make must be overwhelming.

It is hardly even necessary to make argue for denying the vote to infants and very young children. It is less easy to make that argument in relation to, say, 12 and 13-year olds. And quite impossible to make any rational argument for withholding the franchise from persons who have reached the legal age of consent.

We are entitled to be suspicious of the motives of those who advocate denying the vote to anyone. In a healthy democracy, the verdict of the people is not something to be feared.

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3 thoughts on “Votes for all!

  1. Hugh Wallace

    I must admit I was originally opposed to the idea of allowing 16 & 17 year-olds to vote because I perceived them as being too out of touch with the realities of politics to be given that responsibility.

    I was wrong on two counts: firstly, many youngsters are highly aware & engaged and many of their elders are utterly not so denying anyone a vote on age alone is completely arbitrary & unfair. Secondly, if any of the younger set are out of touch with politics it probably has a lot to do with being denied a vote in the first place. A rather self sustaining situation & one that needs to be broken.

    But the broader issue of why so many of voting age are disinclined to exercise their democratic rights is something we really should address for all ages of voter. Is it because while we have a democratic right to vote we find that we have very limited democratic power? I’ve always voted in every election I could since I was 18 but most of the time I could have saved myself the bother for all the good it did me. This is why, above all else, I want Scotland to be independent so that my vote might matter each & every time I cast it.

  2. Donald McGregor

    Speaking as one of the fabled over 55s, I can say with some certainty that there are many many people of my age that I would deny a vote to, on the basis that not only do they vote unthinkingly, defensively and fearfully, they do do without any heart.

    Young people have the considerable benefit of being able, instinctively, to vote for something they hope for – and not necessarily a self-centred thing, but something they might regard as a good thing.

  3. Gregor

    If 16 & 17 year olds can act as cannon fodder for corrupt, reckless and counterproductive British Imperial wars, and an archaic unelected House of Self-entitled Carpetbaggers is an affront to civilised democracy – why shouldn’t they have a meaningful say in society, for a more socially-just and brighter future.

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