There were winners and losers in the Scottish referendum. Alex Salmond may have led the losers but 16- and 17-year-olds took gold. The yes supporters may have been bitterly disappointed by the result, but first-time voters for both sides relished the opportunity to flex their electoral muscle. That’s why, as an English 16-year-old, I am left wondering why I can’t have a vote in the next general election in May 2015. Thankfully, change may be in the air. At this year’s Labour conference Ed Miliband said “It’s time to hear the voice of young people in our politics” and that he needs the “hope, energy [and] vitality” associated with our youth. It’s good to hear a political leader calling out to my generation – and not just hustling for votes. At my age I can buy a lottery ticket, have sex, drive a moped and leave school. So why am I responsible enough to have a baby or win the lottery, but not old enough to vote? The social contract that governs our society says we should have no rights without responsibilities, but we teenagers have lots of responsibilities without the precious right to vote.
So Miliband’s pledge to extend the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds is hugely welcome. There’s a looming crisis for democracy as young people feel alienated from mainstream politics. In the 2010 general election, only 56% of 18- to 24-year-olds registered to vote, and a mere 44% went to the polling stations. Compare that with the 76% of those over 65 who voted.
But young people can be engaged if they feel the issues concern them. In the Scottish referendum, 80% of 16- to 17-year-olds registered to vote and debates took place in schools and colleges nationwide. Russell Brand doesn’t speak for my generation. Friends of mine, who previously didn’t know their right wing from their left, became engrossed in the coverage of the Scottish referendum. Switching Newsnight on in the background while doing homework helped nourish political knowledge.