Bath and North East Somerset Council has passed a Liberal Democrat motion to lobby for the extension of the voting age to 16 and 17 year olds. The move comes amid increasing levels of engagement among young people in political and environmental affairs.
"16 and 17 year olds already have many adult rights and responsibilities. Why shouldn’t we trust them with the right to influence their futures by voting?" says the youngest member of B&NES Council, Councillor Ryan Wills (Lib Dem, High Littleton) who proposed the votes at 16 motion.
"At 16 you can work full time, you can pay income tax and national insurance, you can receive tax credits and welfare benefits in your own right. You can even get married and start a family... As you can have the same responsibilities over 18 year olds have, surely it is wrong to be denied all the same rights. We should align rights with responsibilities."
As well as highlighting the variety of rights already granted to 16 and 17 year olds, Ryan pointed to the success of youth democratic engagement in Scotland as a model of success, showing how voting is a habitual exercise, which can be better instilled at an earlier age while young people are still in school.
"In 2014, Scottish 16 and 17 year olds were given the opportunity to vote in the independence referendum. It was reported that 75% of them did so. When young people are given a say in their futures, they are interested and it sets them up to be voters for life. 97% said they would vote in future elections."
"With strong citizenship education in schools (and 16 year olds are more likely to be in schools, where there is an opportunity to talk to them directly), this can empower young people who can engage with politics better and hopefully in return politicians will better engage with and listen to young people."
Ryan claimed that there was an appetite among young people in Bath and North East Somerset for having greater involvement in decision-making, citing the recent climate strikes in schools across the region.
"We’ve all seen the Bath “youth strike for climate” where hundreds of young people regularly march through this city demanding action on climate change. I don’t see how you could argue that at this moment young people in our area are not politically engaged."
Ryan concludes by arguing that in an age dominated by the climate emergency and Brexit - issues that will disproportionately affect future generations - it's more important than ever to allow young people to have their voices represented.
The passage of this motion will now obligate the Leader of the Council to write to relevant Ministers and local MPs: expressing the Council’s support for the Votes at 16 campaign; calling for the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds in all elections and referendums across the UK; and indicating the Council’s willingness to participate in any pilot scheme.
At the local election, we pledged to give residents, parish councils and other bodies more of a say in making decisions that affect their lives. By giving our support to expanding voting rights for 16 and 17 year olds, we're showing that desire to empower individuals.
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