What a momentous day I had last week sitting in the gallery of the Holyrood parliament listening to MSP after MSP, from EVERY political party, heap praise on the honesty, integrity, enthusiasm and sheer hard work that young people had applied to making their decision on how to use their votes for the first time in our independence referendum.
A motion from Christina Mckelvie, MSP for the Hamilton area, to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in all UK elections was unanimously approved by all the Scottish parties. The positive, new spirit of inter-party co-operation, after the referendum vote, could not have been demonstrated better than it was in our Parliament that day. Everyone has been appealing for Scotland to calm down and accept the vote of the referendum and to do all we can to reunite people in a common cause of improving the life of our nation. As a very old youth worker of 73, I was in tears hearing the stories that all the speakers told. Each one spoke of being so surprised, during the run up to the referendum, at how young people made every effort to find out everything they could about the pros and cons of YES and NO arguments, before they cast their votes. They also said that at public meetings it was always the young people who managed to floor them with the sort of question that adults do not think of or dare to ask. Surely we can learn from our young people, that if politics is going to be relevant to us all today, then we need a radical think about how we do politics.
Our politicians have already made big efforts to listen to the young, as happens regularly now, through the Scottish Youth Parliament. It contributes to all the business of Holyrood when it is developing legislation that is going to affect the lives of children and young people. Cynics had said that the SNP only gave the vote to young people for the referendum to make political mischief, and to gain extra votes. Well if that was their intention, young people demonstrated to me yet again, that they are no daft. Polling suggests that they voted 52% for NO and 48% for YES.
Sadly, the Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in other elections. It is now over to David Cameron’s government to overcome their negative thinking about our young people, and send a bill through Westminster, PRONTO, to make this happen in time for the general election next year. I have serious doubts that this will happen, and fear that our young people will get a slap down from Westminster.
To ensure that does not happens I am appealing to everyone from children to grannies, in Scotland and across the UK, to take a few minutes out of their busy lives to make their mark, by signing my petition (details below) called Votes at 16 which will be presented to David Cameron in due course. A mere million signatures may not be enough, but it would be a glorious start on which to build future generations’ enthusiasm for a new, more honest, more inclusive, form of public participation in our nation’s political life.
Finally, my petition has only been on line for two weeks, in that time it has attracted enough political support to get a motion discussed and agreed in Holyrood on the 9th of October. It is I think unheard of for such rapid action from a public appeal to our politicians. However, very many of you, young and old, seem to think that 16 and 17 year olds already have the vote, because they voted in the referendum. Can I remind you all again that the referendum was a unique political event, so special permission was given to have the novice voters included, but only for that one vote. It has been a life changing event for those young people, for the political parties and many cynical adults. We cannot put that genii back in the bottle and slap down our idealistic and enthusiastic young people by allowing Westminster to block this urgent, and necessary legislation. All political parties will benefit from such a minor, but nonetheless radical, alteration to our nation’s voting habits. Please sign the petition.
Max Cruickshank, retired youth worker.