Am I for Votes at 16? I suppose I am, in the sense that we had that in the Scottish Referendum so I think the precedent is now established (indeed it was established in Austria some time ago). But I have to caution that the notion this will suddenly double or treble the turnout among young voters is laughable.
He is my theory – though ’tis only that – on why young people tend not to vote: they are not used to compromise – whereas politics requires it.
Society and technology have changed significantly since the mass turnout elections of the 1950s. When my parents wanted to listen to music, they had to put up with a jukebox or a single family communal radio – in all likelihood they didn’t like most of the music they heard. By the time I was first taking an interest in politics and such like, we had moved on to walkmans – at least I could select my own albums and perhaps even make my own compilations and listen to them alone, but even then I would inevitably have to listen to a number of songs I was not keen on to get to the ones I really liked (and even then, replaying the ones I really liked meant the hassle of mastering the rewind, forward wind buttons). However, in the era of MP3 players young people can not only listen to their own music in private, but even download only the music they like – they never have to listen to a song they don’t like.
So it goes on. The notion of the communal family meal where everyone eats the same thing, even when that is something they don’t particularly like, is fading fast – it certainly doesn’t happen in my family. Young people can listen only to the music they like; and eat only the food they like. Whether this is socially desirable or even economically viable or environmentally sustainable is another matter – it is what happens.
So it is at the polling station. Young people want to vote only for candidates and/or parties with whom they agree entirely. If there is a single issue on which they disagree, they see no reason to vote for that candidate or party. The fact that withholding their vote effectively punishes the party with whom they agree on 90% of issues and rewards the one with which they agree on only 10% is neither here nor there.
It is absolutely not that young people aren’t politically minded – I suspect they are more so than any previous generation. It is not that they can’t be bothered (or that somehow making the act of voting easier would see them all turn out in their droves) – voting isn’t difficult and when it came to a really big but straightforward issue in Scotland last month they turned out in almost as big a proportion as any other age group. It is that they see no need to compromise.
Whether they are right or wrong in that is not for me to say. However, I do know that they are being punished for it. Older people – who do vote – get their pensions protected, their public transport free, their interests prioritised. Younger people – who don’t vote – see their benefits removed, pay full whack for a public transport they absolutely rely on because running a car is expensive, and their interests generally ignored. Because their interests are ignored, young people see nothing in it for them to vote – but actually not voting is the problem!
It is time for re-balance this vicious cycle and this democratic deficit. It is time for young people to participate not just in campaigns but in actual voting and partisan democracy, imperfect as it is. In short, maybe it is time to compromise?