Now that the general election is behind us, politicians and pundits are setting their sights on the upcoming referendum on the EU. Referenda are not a common occurrence in Britain, since 1973 there have only been two national referenda. This time, there has been a collective cry from 16 and 17 year olds who want the chance to vote on Britain's EU membership.
In 2014, 16 and 17 year olds were given the right to vote in the independence referendum in Scotland. They were galvanised by the debate, empowered by the right to vote, and inspired by the power of people to cause change. The Scots created a generation of politically engaged young people, many of whom will be disappointed that they cannot take part in our next significant debate. It is no surprise that Scotland had a much higher turnout than the rest of the country in the general election. Votes at 16 in the EU referendum would replicate this nationally. We now have the opportunity to engage young people across the country, why are politicians reluctant to take it?
Many millions of people across the UK do not vote, some have never voted before. The Institute for Public Policy Research recommended in 2013 that compelling young voters to vote first time round would help kick-start voting as a habit of a life-time. It seems that if you don't vote in the first election that you can, you are much less likely to vote at all. We have the potential to use schools and colleges to directly encourage 16 and 17 year olds to vote and teach the importance of politics, increasing turnout amongst all age groups. We don't need to settle for a 66% turnout, we can nip apathy in the bud.
It is no surprise that young people feel disaffected when they have no say in who represents them. In the run up to the general election, young people took to social media to discuss politics. Abby Tomlinson sparked debate when she started the Milifandom hashtag, now she is leading the call for votes at 16 in the EU referendum. Scottish 16 and 17 year olds proved they were engaged when 75% voted in the independence referendum. We are engaged, we just need a chance to prove it.
The views of young people are discredited by the claim that they do not have enough 'life experience'. This argument is flawed because 'life experience' is so subjective. Do old people have enough experience to come to an informed decision about youth services? Does someone who has no knowledge of economics have the right experience to make a judgement on economic policy? Let's not forget, many politicians do not have much 'life experience' either. Whether they have sufficient experience or not, young people will inject a much needed dose of enthusiasm, optimism, and innovation into politics. We are considered to have enough 'life experience' to get married, have consensual sex, join the army, and leave home, so why not vote?
The outcome of this referendum will affect 16 and 17 year olds for the rest of their lives, they have a right to vote and make their voice heard.