Cry for the Wild by Holly Gillibrand

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Holly Gillibrand PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE NO-F42-Holly-Gillibrand-column-headshot

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In my English class, we were recently asked to write a discursive essay about a controversial topic we feel interested in. I chose the UK voting age, specifically the reduction of it, and I have decided to publish it as a special edition of my Cry for the Wild column.

I hope my essay sparks your thoughts and adds to the growing conversation around giving 16-year-olds the vote.

The Government is supposed to represent the people, but when one and a half million citizens who should be eligible to vote are denied this basic human right, is that really true? As a teenager soon to reach the age of 16 and be given most rights afforded to adults bar one, I believe that 16-year-olds should be given the vote in the UK.

Sixteen-year-olds are granted many of the freedoms given to adults, so why not this one? Sixteen is the age in which young people are judged to become responsible for their own lives. They can, among other things, leave school, get married, work full time, pay taxes, join the army and save a life via the donation of blood. They are, effectively, adults. But one thing 16-year-olds can’t do is decide who they think should lead their country, when this must be the most important civil liberty of them all.

Evidence from Austria (one of the only EU countries in which 16-year-olds can vote) suggests that with enfranchisement comes increased political awareness. After Austria reduced the voting age to 16 in 2007, the Government launched the ‘DemokratieInitiative’ campaign, in an effort to boost registration and increase awareness about elections. Dr Eva Zeglovits, a political scientist and statistician from the University of Vienna, showed that the number of 16 and 17-year-olds who thought of themselves as ‘very interested’ in politics went up by 100% thereafter. If the UK began a similar venture, we could dramatically increase the number of young people voting and reduce the sense of political alienation amongst this demographic.

People of my age group will be left to deal with the issues of the world, long after our current leaders are pushing up the proverbial daisies. Cities and coastal communities will be at risk of being washed off the map due to the expected sea level rise of one to two metres by 2100.

Finite planetary resources are dwindling, as people in financially fortunate parts of the world extract resources faster than nature can replenish them. And according to the UN Food and Agriculture organisation, the world on average has just three score years of harvests left. All in all, the future looks very bleak and it is my generation that will be living through it, dealing with it, and attempting to survive in it.

There is lots of opposition against a reduction of the voting age: a 2018 study conducted by YouGov found that only 24 per cent of the public supports it. Young people being less politically engaged than their elders is one argument commonly used  by those who oppose it. I disagree with this opinion, on the grounds that yes, some young people don’t vote, but that is the case for every age group. An apathetic one third of the UK electorate chose not to use this great power bestowed upon them in the 2019 general election. According to iNews, the number of people who turned out to vote was actually down by 1.5 per cent from the previous election, two years beforehand. It seems that our seniors can be just as idle as teenagers, yet this wouldn’t justify stripping them of their rights. Why does it with us?

The reasons for the voting age to be reduced far outweigh the reasons for opposing it. A report released on the Social Progress Index three years ago, named the UK a country of ‘very high social progress’. Let’s live up to this title, and give 1.5 million citizens a voice in a world of political turmoil.

Holly Gillibrand PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE

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