Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack has said that young people are being “silenced” as the British Youth Council (BYC) launches a campaign calling on the government to give 16- and 17-year-olds in England and Northern Ireland the right to vote.
Today (7 May) local and city-elections were set to take place across the UK but are now postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it has been chosen as a significant date to mark the start of the campaign pressing the government for equal voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds across all four nations.
As of yesterday, 16- and 17-year-olds were given the right to vote – officially known as ‘enfranchised’ – for Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament elections in Wales, joining their Scottish counterparts who were given the right to vote in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.
However, England and Northern Irish youth remain without these voting rights, which the BYC brands as “unfair and cannot go unaddressed”.
Its petition, which hopes to get 100,000 signatories, demands:
1) Electoral franchise powers are devolved for local authorities and city-regions in England and Northern Ireland for all relevant elections/referendums excluding UK general elections and UK-wide referendums.
2) 16- and 17-year-olds are given equal voting rights in England and Northern Ireland as their counterparts in Scotland and Wales.
3) Young people across the UK are offered statutory opportunities in their schools/colleges and local communities to learn about local and national democracy, and gain the skills and experiences to encourage life-long democratic engagement and participation.
The BYC sets addressing climate change as one of its core demands. It urges the government to “raise awareness of individual and collective responsibility in addressing climate change,” embed “education for sustainable development” into the school curriculum, and ensure large companies share their environmental impact figures transparently and have a “greater level of accountability”.
Giving young people a voice
Deputy Green Party Leader Amelia Womack has lent her support to the campaign, speaking in support of the campaign saying: “Young people are being silenced in political debate that affects their future. We need to give them their voice – by giving them the vote.
“I’m proud that here in Wales legislation has been passed meaning that 16- and 17-year-olds will now be able to vote in devolved parliamentary elections – as they can in Scotland. However, in general elections and most local elections across the UK, 16- and 17-year-olds still don’t have the right to vote – our election laws are stuck in the past.
“I’m proud to be supporting the British Youth Council in calling for fair and equal votes for young people. Please sign their petition, and support the campaign however you can.
“The arguments against giving young people the vote are as weak as ones used against women who demanded the vote. They won then, and we’ll win today. Fair and equal votes are coming, but we must fight for them.”
BYC’s campaign will be supported by evidence from the Leverhulme Trust-funded ‘Lowering the Voting Age in the UK’ research project conducted at the Universities of Huddersfield and Liverpool, which aims to lead research on the minimum voting age and its impact on youth political engagement.
To find out more about the campaign BYC is conducting visit its website.