Scotland has it, Wales is getting it, and more and more politicians are calling for it in England.
Yet on Friday, a handful of MPs prevented legislation on votes at 16 going to the next stage – using underhand tactics.
The government’s apparent decision to ‘talk out’ a debate on extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds across the UK is extremely disappointing.
MPs were discussing debate the second reading of Dr Peter Kyle’s Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement) Bill.
The cross-party Bill would ensure voting rights for 16 and 17-year-olds, and introduce ‘auto-enrollment’ onto the electoral register for young people. Both could play a big role in revitalising our democracy and extending the democratic duty to Britain’s young people.
The move to filibuster the vote was particularly concerning given the growing support for reform among Conservatives. Indeed, next month we’ll be publishing a pamphlet filled with Conservative calls for a fairer franchise – from MPs, activists and key figures across the party.
In the upcoming report on votes at 16 for the Electoral Reform Society, Conservative MP Nicky Morgan will say:
“In the same way that allowing all men and women to vote seemed a brave step forward, but is now something we wonder why it took so long to achieve, I think the time has now come to allow votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. That is why I am backing [Peter Kyle’s] Bill.
“The suffragettes and the suffragists needed visionary men to support their cause, and our 16 and 17-year-olds now need older voters to support theirs.
“Politicians should stop wringing their hands and wondering why young people aren’t politically engaged and take the most obvious step to address this by extending the franchise to our 16 and 17 year olds. The Suffragette slogan of ‘Deeds not Words’ has resonance again.”
The cross-party Bill builds on growing momentum for extending the franchise ‘south of the border’, after Scotland passed votes at 16 in 2015. With Wales now following suit, England looks increasingly left behind when it comes to a fairer franchise.
It is a constitutional injustice that 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland can vote in all Scottish elections – but may continue to be denied a vote at Westminster as a result of cynical manoeuvring on the issue last week.
16 and 17-year-olds took part ‘wholeheartedly’ in the Scottish independence referendum, with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections.
And many of those opposed to extending the franchise for the referendum at the time soon backed the moves – including Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. More Conservative figures are now joining the campaign.
We hope the UK government rethinks its apparent rejection of this bill – and backs what is a vital move to step our democracy up a gear.
As Sir Peter Bottomley MP says in our upcoming pamphlet:
“My appeal to Conservative, Labour and supporters of other parties who oppose this is not to approach this issue with calculations of party advantage. The United Kingdom’s democratic story is more important than that.
“Let us unite in trusting and engaging with our country’s future.”