‘Imagine young people were taken seriously’

No confidence of vote: 16 and 17-year-olds call for a lower voting age outside Parliament. © PA

Undivided, a British group that excludes anyone aged over 30, has launched a campaign to get the young involved in the Brexit debate. Are some people’s opinions more important than others’?

British young from all walks of life stand before the camera. ‘We’re sick of the status quo,’ says one. ‘Imagine if young people were finally taken seriously,’ implores another.

These are the leaders of Undivided, a new campaign to secure a Brexit that works for the young. They are calling on one million Britons aged 13–29 to say what they want from a Britain outside the European Union (EU). The ten most popular proposals will be submitted to Parliament.

The campaign’s name is significant. Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June exposed the nation’s divisions: between classes, ethnicities, city and countryside, and – most controversially – age groups. A poll of those who voted suggests: 71% those aged 18–24 voted Remain; the majority of over-45s opted for Leave.

Millennials who voted Remain reacted to Brexit with fury. They accused their parents and grandparents, who will die sooner, of leaving them with a country they did not choose. ‘They had no right to vote Leave,’ went the complaint. Some even argued that old people should have been barred from voting altogether.

Similar arguments have been made before. In the 18th century, politicians defended the franchise being limited to property-owners by insisting that others did not have sufficient stake in politics to deserve a vote. In the 19th, John Stuart Mill proposed that educated people, being more thoughtful, should get more votes.

More recently the spotlight has been on the voting age. In most of Britain – and the world – it is 18, but ever more countries are lowering it to 16. Had Britain done this in time for the referendum, some claim, Remain would have won. Others counter that 16-year-olds are too immature to vote.

Of course, the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ is a cornerstone of modern democracies. The elderly have responded with equal fury to the suggestion that they ‘had no right to vote’.

Yet Brexit has revealed that not everyone is happy with the status quo. Do young people’s opinions count for more than those of their elders?

Through the ages

Quite the opposite, say some. Old people own more property, pay more taxes, are in worse health. They are more invested in politics, and therefore vote more wisely. They also have more experience. The elderly remember a pre-EU Britain: surely they are best placed to decide whether the country is better off inside Europe or out.

Not so, reply others. Brexit is a clear example of a policy that means more to the young, simply because they will experience it for longer. What’s more, it is patronising to suggest that they are less mature than adults, most of whom are politically ignorant. If anything, the young are more inquisitive, more open-minded.

You Decide

  1. What should be the voting age?
  2. Should there be a maximum voting age, after which people are no longer allowed to vote?

Activities

  1. Read Buzzfeed’s list of things young people want from Brexit in Become An Expert. Add a request of your own.
  2. Interview someone aged over 40 who voted in the referendum. Show them this article, and ask them what they think of the questions it raises. Write down their answers and share them with the class.

Some People Say...

“Youth has no age.”

Pablo Picasso

What do you think?

Q & A

When will I get to vote?
If you’re in Scotland, you can take part in local and Scottish national elections from age 16. Other Britons have to wait until 18. For both, the next local elections will take place on May 4th 2017. The next general election is scheduled for 2020, but the government may well call it sooner.
If the young voted for it, why did Remain lose?
Because the old voted in greater numbers than the young. This has long been the case in UK politics. It encourages politicians to give preferential treatment to older voters.
Is this a uniquely British problem?
No. In every single European country, and many others too, the old out-vote the young. This can create a vicious circle: politicians stop appealing to young voters, who therefore feel alienated by politics, and so vote less.

Word Watch

What they want
Undivided does not want to overturn the referendum result. In fact, the campaign includes Leave voters.
Poll
By YouGov. (See Become An Expert.) The 71% aged 18–24 is based on a sample of 398.
Millennials
The generation born in the 1980s-90s.
Franchise
The right to vote.
John Stuart Mill
(1806–73). English philosopher and economist most famous for his work On Liberty, in which he argues for the importance of individual freedom over state intervention.
16
Voting ages range from 16 to 21, with 18 the most common. In Italy, it rises to 25 for some elections.
Remain would have won
Requiring a huge turnout among those aged 16–18 – an unlikely event.
One person, one vote
No such system is perfect. First, depending on the country, some groups of people – such as prisoners, or the mentally disabled – cannot vote. Second, in elections votes tend to be counted in blocks, ‘constituencies’ in Britain. The fewer people in a constituency, the more influence their votes have.
Pre-EU Britain
The UK joined the EU predecessor, the European Economic Community, in 1973.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.