Baroness Suttie writes about how Sixteen-Year-Olds Can Pay Tax, Join the Army and Get Married - Why Shouldn't They Be Able to Vote in the EU Referendum?
There is a certain irony in 16 and 17-year-olds having to rely on unelected peers to stand up for their democratic rights. But as with opposition to tax credits, when Liberal Democrats have the opportunity to force the government to look again at bad decisions then we will do so. And we should be clear that excluding 16 and 17-year-olds from the debate over the UK's place in Europe would be a bad decision.
The result of the EU referendum will affect everyone in the UK. It will affect jobs, and our ability to trade with our international partners. It will affect security, and our ability to protect ourselves from criminals operating outside of our borders. It will change the way that we see ourselves and our attitudes towards our closest neighbours. Young people will have to live with the consequences of the referendum far longer than any of the peers who voted on extending the franchise in the House of Lords last night.
No-one who saw the energy that 16 and 17-year-olds brought to the independence referendum in Scotland would agree with those who argue that young people should not get involved in politics. My niece was one of 17-year-olds who took the chance to have their say on the future of her Scotland in the referendum last year. She was informed, passionate and committed to her preferred side of the argument. No one will ever persuade me that Liberal Democrats were wrong to support the extension of the franchise and give her the vote at that poll.
Some of the arguments we heard from Tory peers against extending the franchise for the EU referendum last night were truly absurd and were the sort of patronising arguments and attitudes that would not have sounded out of place in the House of Lords a hundred years ago in debates about giving women the right to vote. 16-year-olds are mature enough to work and pay tax. They are mature enough to join the army or get married. Suggesting that they are incapable of understanding political debate is patronising in the extreme.
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has described herself as "a fully paid-up member of the 'votes at 16' club now, for every election." It is a shame that her party does not agree with her. As with tax credits, virtually all of the Tory peers marched through the voting lobbies last night and voted against the interests of young people. It will not take a huge shift in opinion on the Tory benches in the House of Commons to secure what would be an historic victory for young people. If they are not willing to listen to the views of young people themselves on extending the franchise then I do hope that they will listen to their own leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson.
Baroness Suttie is a Lib Dem peer and party whip in the House of Lords