The question of whether the voting age should be lowered is swarming around discussion of the EU Referendum. Those in favour of the idea feel there is no debate to be had. They ask: 'If 16 and 17-year-olds can pay tax, join the army and have consensual sex, why shouldn't they have the vote?' Being a taxpayer and eligible fornicator is irrelevant. The state of political education in schools; however, is not irrelevant.
I attended school just four years ago. Our fortnightly PSHCE lessons - a time that you would expect schools to be providing pupils with a citizen's education - were dedicated to slapping nob socks on bananas from the canteen, and hammering home the 'Just Say No!' campaign. This meant I left school not knowing the difference between libertarian and authoritarian; capitalist and socialist; or Clegg and Cameron. If you had pulled me aside and asked: 'What is First Past the Post?' I would have told you it was a sports day event.
When 16-year-old pupils are receiving this level of political education during school time, and are being dragged away by GCSE textbooks and Strongbow during their leisure time, surely it is impossible to expect them to make an informed decision on our complicated membership to the EU that many adults (myself included) find hard to grasp.
Then there is the matter of allowing 17-year-olds to vote. Having left school and entered the world of work or higher education, they are going to be better informed than their 16-year-old counterparts. Those in higher education may have learnt the basics of economics, politics and sociology. Meanwhile, those in the world of work will have a vested interest in policies affecting the job market, worker's rights and salaries. In short, the average 17-year-old will have started to figure out a few of their political opinions. But how much conviction is behind those opinions?
Consider it from a personal perspective. How often did your opinions shift before you reached 18? You may have been pro-EU one week, and anti-EU the next. I was no better. History lessons on Tsarist Russia and the Cold War saw me swing from capitalist to communist and back again in the space of a year. At 17 I would have trusted the Tories with the national economy. At 18 I wouldn't have left them alone with my wallet. I was swinging across the spectrum month by month.
To suggest the year between 17 and 18 can make a world of difference is not insane. 18-year-olds, whether they are settled into the working world or on the cusp of university education, have had enough time away from the initial bombardment of information and opinion to properly measure up their own views. They have had a luxury of time that the average 16 and 17-year-old has not been afforded. It is only in their best interests that the line is drawn at eighteen.
I will support a vote for 16 and 17-year-olds, when schools are dedicating the same time to political education as they are currently committing to PE, RE and PSHCE. That time will not come before the EU referendum. Budging on the issue and dropping the voting age threshold for the referendum will hurt both sides of the field. The referendum will be marred further by uninformed voting, and new members of the electorate will likely regret their vote a couple of years down the line. Parliament can't win on this issue. We can only hope they stand their ground.