May 26, 2015 11.16 am This story is over 102 months old

Our youngsters should have a vote on our future

Voting age debate: Chair of the Lib Dems locally Ross Pepper argues that 16 and 17-year-olds should join the once-in-a-generation EU membership vote.

No one can fail to remember the Scottish independence referendum last year. The huge turnout of 84.6% dwarfs that of the recent General Election which saw a 66.1% turnout.

There was one significant difference in the electorate for the Scottish referendum in 2014; 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote on the future of their country. Looking ahead to the referendum on our membership, should 16 and 17-year-olds have the right to have their say too?

Looking at the Scottish referendum, the vote for 16 and 17-year-olds was introduced by the Scottish government as a ‘one-off’ vote on the future of Scotland.

The SNP hoped that by lowering the age, they could secure more votes for the Yes to Independence campaign as over two thirds of Scottish teenagers backed independence according to a Lord Ashcroft survey prior to the referendum.

Notably, nearly three quarters of 16 and 17-year-olds who were registered did vote, compared to just over half of all 18 to 24-year-olds (figures from the Electoral Commission).

Whether you agree on whether a vote should take place or not, our vote on our membership of the European Union is very similar in terms of importance to the Scottish referendum.

This is a once-in-a-generation vote which could have profound consequences for our country, and for that reason 16 and 17 year olds should be given the chance to decide alongside the rest of the public.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens have called for the voting age to be lowered for the referendum, but on Monday it was revealed by the Conservative government that they were not prepared to let 16 and 17-year-olds have a say at the referendum.

It was also announced the EU nationals are excluded from the vote, even if they have been living here for decades, whilst Australian and New Zealand nationals would be allowed a vote on the issue.

We also need to have a sensible and grown up discussion about Europe. We do not need the myths that have been pedalled to us for years about Europe or soundbite stories. We need lots of unbiased information provided online, in meetings, in the press and from our politicians on which we can build an informed choice.

On a personal note, I would like to highlight one thing which has probably lead us to this referendum: Britain has always shied away from taking a leading role in Europe.

From shunning the offer to joining as a founder member, to not signing up to the social convention and blocking a treaty on budget rules, Britain has not been at the front, leading Europe in a direction which we might have been happier with. We left that to France and Germany and have increasingly found ourselves at odds with the direction of the EU.

This is by no means an excuse to leave. I recognise the EU is far from perfect and it needs urgent reforms, but we need to be a committed member leading from the front to be able to push the reforms through and persuade others to join to us, not sat on the sidelines isolating yourself from the others.

With such an important vote which will have consequences for the future of the country, whichever way you feel about the EU, it is vital that young people’s voices are heard as their generations will feel the consequences the most.

It is vital that 16 and 17-year-olds are given the vote in this referendum and the Lib Dems will be fighting to make this happen.

Ross Pepper was the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Lincoln in May 2015. He is the chair of the Lib Dems locally and is a Parish Councillor for Skellingthorpe. Ross was born and brought up in Lincoln currently works as an optical assistant for a well-known opticians.