THE BLOG

Why the EU Referendum Is the Perfect Time for Votes at 16

22/05/2015 17:05 BST | Updated 22/05/2016 10:59 BST

In 2014, Scotland made history. They didn't vote for independence - but they created a national conversation which engaged all its citizens, transcending barriers of political affiliation, class - and most importantly age. 16- and 17-year-olds were enfranchised, and proved exactly why they should be. They were some of the most passionate campaigners of the referendum, and images of school students queueing up to vote became symbolic of the historic way in which young people had engaged in the debate about their future.

Now, the UK's citizens will be voting on an issue just as important, and with as significant an impact on its young people: our membership of the European Union.

It's vital that we follow the precedent set last year and allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. This is a huge constitutional question, one which has been debated for years, and which is now set to be settled for a lifetime. It's unthinkable that so many of my generation, who will be affected by this decision for the rest of our lives, could be excluded from the decision.

Not only will this decision have huge ramifications for years to come, it will affect young people immediately. Our membership of the EU gives young workers vital protection, preventing under-18s from being employed in dangerous or unsuitable work; it allows us to travel, work and study in Europe, without endless bureaucracy or excessive cost.

But this isn't just about the EU. It's about the fundamental principle of enfranchising 16-year-olds - they can work, marry, and join the army, so why are they not given a say in the way their country is run?

The Young Greens has no lower age limit - and some of our most dedicated, organised and effective campaigners are under-18. Members of all ages engage in detailed and passionate debates on policy and strategy, and it makes our organisation stronger.

A democracy should aim to include as many voices as it can - to bring in the widest range of experiences and perspectives possible. Shutting out young people does nothing but narrow the debate.

This referendum is the perfect opportunity to take the first steps towards enfranchising 16-year-olds for good. The precedent has been set by Scotland, where an estimated 75% of 16- and 17-year-olds turned out to vote; this is not an issue that 16-year-olds will simply have the opportunity to vote on once they turn 18, but one they may never get the chance to vote on again; and legislation like the EU Young Workers directive makes this referendum of specific relevance to under-18s on a number of issues.

Opponents of Europe and defenders of the status quo alike will seek to keep this issue out of the hands of young people. But if this referendum is to truly settle the question of Europe for our generation, they must be enfranchised.

You can sign the petition for votes at 16 in the EU referendum here