A lesson learnt from Scottish independence referendum

Vote at 16

A few days ago a very important independence referendum took place in Scotland. Of course we are not going to talk about the political consequences of this referendum to the Scottish people or the country. But this referendum gave us a great lesson regarding the participation of young people in elections. For the referendum the normal voting age was reduced from 18 to 16 for the first time in Great Britain!

The vast majority of young people aged 16 and over participated in the voting procedure without any dissonances! Most of the youngsters were also actively involved in the two electoral campaigns (“Yes Scotland” and “Better Together”). All this happened without any major problems or difficulties for them.

This fact fostered again the discussions on the voting age across Europe. Vote at 16 is not a new issue and has been considered by many governments, policy makers and stakeholders since the mid-1990s! Austria is the first European Union member state that adopted the right to vote at 16 years in 2007. In addition, young people aged 16 to 18 years old can vote in some other European countries (like Bosnia-Herzegovina) only if they are employed or under other special conditions. In Germany and Switzerland the right to vote in local elections is set at 16 years in several states and cantons, too.

Many international initiatives have been taken so far to support lowering the voting age to 16. The most known were presented in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (May 2009) and in the European Parliament (September 2012). Most of youth organisations and associations (including the European Youth Forum) support such campaigns and advocate for them.

Why is voting at 16 so important after all? The percentage of young population decreases every year. There is a real risk that young people become marginalized in the political processes, both because of the numerical shortfall, but also because the political agenda will be dominated by issues relating primarily to the elderly people. This can lead to demographic imbalance between young and older people in democratic institutions procedures!

Young people should have the right to decide for their own future! Voting at 16 is going to enhance the role of youth in civic society and democratic participation. During a period of political instability in many European countries, we need to strengthen effectively the participation of youth into political institutions. This could be a vital counterweight to the continuous depreciation of the democratic processes that have occurred.

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