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.Views: 3674
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