We are simply the temporary guardians of their future


‘No taxation without representation’ was the call to arms which shook Westminster to its very core, and drove the American revolution.

And yet nearly 250 years later here we are again.  In this country today 16 and 17 year olds can pay tax and national insurance, and yet they have no say, no representation in how that money they contribute to the public purse is spent.

They can also get married and join the armed forces, but they cannot vote and have no say in our society’s decisions on their future. Yet, nobody has provided a reasonable explanation as to why. There have been plenty of excuses but no explanations.

It frustrates me because I have witnessed first-hand what a difference it makes to our politics, and what a contrast there is when 16 and 17 year olds join the debate.

On the eve of the European elections in May 2014, I spent the evening with a group of my daughter’s friends.

It was her 16th birthday. They knew I was involved in both the European elections and the forthcoming Scottish Independence Referendum campaign and wanted to chat.

The conversations I had that night were some of the most enlightened, challenging and informed of the entire European or Independence referendum campaigns.

At one point, I noticed that even though there was a constant stream of questions a few of the people were also all on their phones.

I was on the brink of being disappointed, when I discovered that they were actually texting other friends who were sending back their own questions to ask.

Imagine that? Young people so desperately keen to understand and be involved in the democratic process.

All of them engaged, all of them informed, all of them keen to make a positive difference and yet none of them entitled to vote the next day.

Six months later they were all entitled to vote in the Independence Referendum and I happen to know that every single one of them did.

During that referendum campaign in Scotland, every 16-year-old I spoke to had something that perhaps some older voters, perhaps even some of us in Westminster have lost - a willingness to listen to ideas and an enthusiasm.

It enriched that campaign on both sides and created a genuine feeling that politics at that moment involved everyone, in a decision that would affect all our futures.

In the campaigns since I have met many 16 and 17 year olds on doorsteps, quite often they’ve asked where my party stands on the voting age. I’m proud to tell them we support votes at 16.

But more than that I know they are storing that information away for the first, or in Scotland the next, time they go into a polling booth.

Today, we had the chance to say yes and to send out a message which says that we respect our young people.

We had a chance to harness their enthusiasm, the fresh ideas and energetic approach of our 16 and 17 year olds.

All commodities often in short supply these days.

Sixteen and 17 year olds will have watched the debate today in Westminster and paid close attention to how we dealt with this issue.

The party which failed to support this Bill will be remembered by 16 year and 17 year olds the next time they go into the polling booths after their 18th Birthday.

As an MP, I know that we are the temporary guardians of their future and that they have a right to help determine what that future is.

I will continue the fight for votes for 16 and 17 year olds.


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