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The SNP's Humza Yousaf says there is "no plausible reason" to deny votes for 16 year-olds, and accuses the pro-Union parties of attempting to "weasel out of the question".
Scotland stands on the cusp of the making the most important decision in 300 years. Much of the debate surrounding the independence referendum has been framed in an historical context. However, perhaps more important is the implications of a new Scotland for our future generations.
A consensus is forming that those with most at stake in Scotland’s future should be given a say in the independence referendum.
The arguments for votes at 16 are well rehearsed over the years, but opponents have yet to come forward with any substantial rebuttals. Essentially, and without sounding all Boston Tea Party about it, it boils down to the idea of “no taxation without representation”.
There is an inherent inequity in a system that demands those aged 16 who work must pay tax, which goes towards funding national services, yet have no say on how those services should be managed or run.
It is difficult to see the fairness in a society where we allow those aged 16 and 17 to join the army cadets and not be able to vote on the Government that may well ask them to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the future.
Make the decision to get married and have kids? Sure, just don’t expect to be able to make an informed decision about the kind of Government you want for your children.
Votes at 16 has been Scottish National Party policy for over a decade, Angus Robertson MP, the man charged with coordinating the Yes to Independence campaign, called for votes at 16 in his House of Commons maiden speech in 2001.
In the Scottish Parliament, the SNP led Scottish Government has led by example, lowering the voting age for the franchises over which we have control – such as local health board elections.
We have consistently called for the Scottish Parliament to have full control over Scottish Parliament and local authority elections, but thus far these pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of the UK Government.
The Liberal Democrats have long pledged to give voting equality to our young people. However, as with their pledge on tuition fees, this one seems to be consigned to the dustbin of political idealism with hardly a whimper on the subject from the rump of Lib Dem MSPs currently in the Scottish Parliament.
Labour Party MPs, including many from Scotland, voted to give 16 year olds the vote for the AV referendum. Many Labour MSPs have also signed the “Votes at 16” pledge. However, when asked the question in reference to the independence referendum they duck and dive, squirm and wriggle to avoid giving a definitive answer.
Collective paranoia has set in amongst the anti-independence parties. They seem to harbour a belief that somewhere in the deepest darkest crevices of SNP HQ there is internal polling suggesting that our high schools are populated by mini Salmonds & Sturgeons waiting to be unleashed just in time for the referendum in 2014.
There is no plausible reason to deny votes to those aged 16 and 17. That is why civic society, including the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations – made up of over 1,300 third sector organisations, trade unions, the Scottish Youth Parliament and many more are joining in calls to bring equality to our voting system.
I speak in many high schools across Glasgow and when talking about independence it is clear that our young people have an appetite to be part of the discussion. They have just as inquisitive minds as the rest of the population and are enthused by the prospect of being a part of something so historic. In a time of increasing voter apathy, we can hardly afford to let such interest and enthusiasm go.
Labour MP and former Minister Chris Bryant described those who tried to squirm around the votes at 16 question by saying they personified the following Homer Simpson truism:
"Weaselling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals -except the weasels."
It is time all those parties that believe in giving votes to 16 and 17 year olds go by the principle of their convictions, stop attempting to weasel out of the question and empower our young people to decide their future – it is, after all, a matter of equality.