NEW PLANS to give more young people a say in local democracy in Wales will be announced this week by the Welsh Government (Tuesday 30 Jan).
They reflect last year’s Welsh Government consultation on reforming the electoral system in Wales, which received almost 1000 responses.
It is inspiring to see politicians in Wales listening to the voices of young people there and giving them a say in the decision that affect their lives. It is a step forward for democracy, and in fact is a green flag for democracies everywhere.
Many feel that politics is distant and it is vital we look to reform. This is in itself is not a silver bullet but it reflects a desire to see change and for an open democracy.
It is vital that we take on the challenge taken on by generations gone who fought for the right of working people to vote, for the right of women to vote and to extend the franchise from 21 to 18 year olds. This is a natural progression and the campaign continues with the decision in Wales further galvanising our campaign.
In recent months I have been front and centre of the debate around lowering the voting age, and remains a strong voice for 16 and 17 year olds in Parliament. The decision in Wales follows Jim’s Private Member’s Bill, which aimed to lower the voting age nationally before it was talked out of the House of Commons by a small number of opposing Conservative MPs.
The Welsh Labour Government are now leading the way by extending the franchise in local government elections for 16 and 17 year olds. This also paves the way for voting in Welsh Assembly elections
However, we are now in a ridiculous position where a 16 year old living in Wales and Scotland can vote in elections there, yet young people are denied the right to vote in in the same elections in England and Northern Ireland. 16 and 17 year olds are also still denied a vote in General Elections across the UK, and UK-wide referenda.
The Labour Party is committed to extending the franchise and giving equal voting rights to young people across the United Kingdom, not only in referenda, but in devolved assemblies and local government.
The experience in Scotland has shown us how successful extending the franchise can be. 75% of 16 and 17 year olds turned out to vote in the Scottish independence referendum.
This year we celebrate 100 years since the start of women’s suffrage. It was only in 1970 that the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18, allowing teenagers to vote for the first time in the UK. Prevalent then were exactly the same arguments that stop 16- and 17-year-olds voting today.
There is clearly a growing demands for Votes at 16 amongst young people. Last year 950,000 young people voted in the UK Youth Parliament UK-wide ballot called ‘Make Your Mark’, and Votes at 16 was made one of their five priority campaigns.
There is cross-party support for Votes at 16. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party are all fully supportive of extending the franchise. Even the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Party, Ruth Davidson says she is now a “fully paid-up member of the votes at 16 club”.