THE BLOG
16/06/2015 13:08 BST | Updated 16/06/2016 06:59 BST

Don't Stereotype Us, Don't Patronise Us - Let Us Vote in the EU Referendum

Imagine - it is 11:59pm on the eve of your 18th birthday. The clock strikes 12 and you are officially 18 years old. There is a puff of smoke, and before you appears an old white man in an ill-fitting suit and tasteless tie, who introduces himself as the magical politics knowledge fairy. Let's call him David. David then proceeds to bestow upon you all the wonders of the political universe, so that your opinion may finally be valid. When David's work is done, you wake up knowing everything you need to know about politics, are completely informed and educated, and ready to vote like you never were at 16 or 17. Congratulations! The government and politicians will now take you slightly more seriously than they did before; you have passed the magical threshold of sudden understanding.

Ridiculous, isn't it? And yet some senior Tory politicians, whose parents spent a fortune on their private education, seem to believe that such a fairy exists. They seem to believe that, although 16 and 17-year-olds can study politics at A level, and have access to endless resources through something called 'the internet', they cannot possibly have a clue about politics until they reach the age of 18.

In fact, John Redwood even went as far as to say that 16 and 17-year-olds that are engaged in politics are a "myth", whilst Philip Hammond said that it would "not be appropriate" to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the EU referendum. They are essentially saying "But you don't have the vote, so you know that your opinion does not matter to us, therefore you have no reason to have an opinion, therefore your opinion must be irrelevant" .

Put simply, when politicians argue that it is only at 18 that you can understand politics, what they can perhaps be perceived as saying is that you can only understand politics if you have the vote, and, using this logic, the solution to make sure 16 and 17-year-olds understand politics would be to give them a vote. So this argument is fundamentally flawed.

Furthermore, politicians argue that not all 16 and 17-year-olds would vote as not all know enough about politics. It is true that not all 16 and 17 year olds are engaged, sadly, the lack of political education means that teenagers have to actively engage themselves as politicians, teachers, and adults in general rarely do anything to prompt them. But not all over 18s are engaged either, not all those who are 18-24 years old are engaged, and yet do politicians propose disenfranchising them? No, because this would be ridiculous. Instead politicians focus on trying to encourage 18-24 year olds to vote. Therefore, surely we should enfranchise 16 and 17-year-olds and focus on encouragement instead of leaving them disenfranchised when they have no incentive to get engaged and actually discouraging engagement by suggesting it is normal for them not to be.

It would be helpful if there were an example, perhaps a referendum of some sort, which proved to politicians that 16 and 17-year-olds would vote if given the opportunity. Any ideas? In the Scottish independence referendum, it is estimated that 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds voted, compared to 54% of 18 to 24 year olds and 72% of 25-34 year olds. It simply does not seem logical that politicians will try to encourage 18-24 year olds to vote in the EU referendum because they do not think that enough of them are engaged, while at the same time not allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote at all for the same reason - even when their voting turnout was significantly larger in the Scottish independence referendum.

Moreover, no politician has spoken nor can speak to every 16 and 17-year-old in the country, the only way for politicians to truly see how engaged 16 and 17-year-olds are is to give them a chance to vote, if they do not, this popular opinion that 16 and 17-year-olds are not informed or interested will continue for the foreseeable future as there will be no definitive way to prove it wrong. I beg all MPs yet to make up their minds, please, do not stereotype, do not patronise, let us vote in the EU referendum, at least give us a chance to prove you wrong.