I first became interested in politics during the 2010 General Election, aged 12. I was lucky enough that my parents were politically engaged and happy to discuss politics with me over dinner as, unfortunately, no one else was going to teach me about it. Politics has always been a common topic of conversation in our household but my parents never forced their opinions or ideas upon me; I was left to make my own decisions. Cut to 2015 and I was very excited about the prospect of being able to vote in the General Election. However, this was not to be; the election was six days before my 18th birthday. While expressing my frustration, I began to question why 16 and 17 year olds weren’t allowed to vote in elections, a time when each adult has the opportunity to decide who will represent them. Was it that they weren’t adults and therefore didn’t qualify? My dad pointed out that politics is not covered in standard education and so, without going out of their way in their own time, 17 year olds would not necessarily have the material they would need to make an informed decision in line with what they believe. However, after a General Election with a turnout from young people that had not been seen in decades, it could hardly be denied that they were interested in the subject so why is it that schools neglect to teach their students about a matter that is important to and affects young people? For me, there is no justified answer to this.
Throughout high school we are taught about many important factors that can influence our lives, from bullying to healthy eating, contraception to alcohol. And yet we are not taught about the democratic system that our country runs on or the parties and their candidates that we can elect to represent us. If 16 year olds are not entitled to vote as they would not ‘understand,’ how can it be their fault when school fails to educate them and prepare them for the big, wide world in this manner? What happens by the age of 18 that suddenly qualifies us to vote? I believe it should be standard practice for politics to be taught in high school, not necessarily the finer details but at least an explanation of what the different parties stand for. How can uninformed people be expected to understand the politics they are faced with and vote accordingly? I can fully appreciate that teachers are seen as having influence with students so I understand why they are instructed to refrain from sharing their political beliefs. However, I do not see why this should mean no neutral information can be supplied. I would never force my personal views on someone else but everyone should be given the support to form their individual sense of what makes for good governance.
The Scottish Referendum set a strong example, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to form their own opinions and vote. They are now able to vote in both local and parliamentary elections. Why is this not already the case across the UK? Perhaps it is that at the ages of 16 and 17 we are considered incapable of making decisions that could influence the rest of our lives. Although I seem to remember being told that the GCSE’s I chose would set my life on an unchangeable pathway when I was 15. At 16 we have the opportunity to work full time for which we could be charged tax. At 17 we are told we need to have our entire lives figured out. And yet, despite the fact that we are deemed responsible enough to make such ‘significant’ decisions, we do not have the right to vote for our representative in Parliament. As cliché as it may sound, women died in their fight for the right to vote and, to this day, people are still dying across the world in order to make their voices heard so it is important to me that I use the opportunities presented to me to have my say.
I understand that there must be a line drawn, an age when it is considered appropriate to be allowed to vote. However, given that it is stressed to 16 and 17 year olds that they are old enough now to make their own choices about their futures, I believe they should also be entitled to vote. There are many significant things that can be done at this age, having your say in the future of your country should be one of them.
The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.
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