I see Alec Salmond has started a debate about voting age in Scotland for his referendum on independence. He wants to reduce it to 16 to allow school boys and girls to have a say on the future of their country. Now I wonder why …..
Once in a while, there is a debate in England about the age of majority. There is no doubt it is a muddle. In England you can get a job, join the Army (but not be sent into combat), consent to sex and leave home at 16. You can drive a car and go to prison at age 17. You can vote, marry without consent, contract, buy land, obtain credit and buy alcohol and tobacco products at 18.
I was born on 9 July 1946 so reached the age of 21 and eligibility to vote on 9 July 1967. Less than three years later, on 1 January 1970, the age was lowered by parliament to 18 years, enfranchising 18- ,19- and 20-year olds at a stroke.
Setting a legal age for voting, jury service, military service, marriage or a host of other issues of legal status is bound to be arbitrary. There are people who are remarkably mature at age 16 or even younger. There are plenty who exhibit great immaturity at double that age. My test is simple. Think of a 16-year old lad you know. Can he look you in the eye? Can he string together half a dozen words in conversation with you? Can he utter the words “yes sir”,’ “no sir”, “thank you sir”? I think we both know the answers? I think it is a joke to consider lowering the voting age anywhere in the United Kingdom.
I would develop a new approach. I don’t believe you can form a measured view of society until you have either held down a job and brought home a pay packet for six months or employed staff and run a business yourself. I would therefore restrict the franchise to those who could demonstrate one of these qualifications. Of course, there would have to be exceptions. In our politically correct age, there always are! People with severe disabilities and unable to work should not be denied the franchise so there is one exemption. There may be a few others but the principle of linking work to suffrage has to be right.