Let the i Generation In

If, even in the quietest moments, we wondered if we might sneak independence in by the back door, well, we ken noo.  One of the most contentious issues is the SNP’s proposal to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the referendum.  A referendum apparently is no place for bairns, not even if they were born to be free.  Me?  I’d go even further and let all children over the age of five in Scotland have their say.  This is, after all, the independence generation.

Over at a Burdz Eye View (http://burdzeyeview.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/vote-should-1617-year-olds-vote-in-independence-referendum/), I thought it might be fun to run a poll on the issue of votes at 16, little knowing just how complex it was.  I challenged why the Scottish Government had not already done this for local government elections, assuming, without checking, that because everything else to do with local government elections is devolved, the franchise bit would be too.

But like so much else in the devolution settlement, it’s not that straight forward.  The franchise in local government elections is expressly reserved in Schedule 5 and sections 11 and 12 of the Scotland Act 1998 state that any change impacting on the Representation of the Peoples Act requires the Secretary of State for Scotland to make an order.  http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/46/part/I/crossheading/franchise-and-conduct-of-elections

It would appear that I am not the only befuddled craitur, for the Secretary of State for Scotland appeared not to realise that his permission was required to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the independence referendum.  In the Scottish Parliamentary debate on Scotland’s Future, John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, went some way to clarify the situation (http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=6658&mode=pdf).  The Scottish Government has consistently called for all powers in relation to elections in Scotland to be devolved.  Indeed, the Parliament committee which scrutinised the current Calman-inspired (I use the term loosely) Scotland bill called for this, yet there has been no response from the UK Government.

But had the Scottish Government wanted to implement this longstanding party policy, it could have done so by decoupling it from its other demands around elections.  There was a local government elections bill passed in 2009 which would have provided the perfect opportunity.  There was even a pro votes at 16 supporter at the Scotland Office in Jim Murphy MP and given that the Liberal Democrats support the policy (but only as and when it suits them apparently), Holyrood would surely have voted the measure through.

Maybe it just didn’t occur to Ministers at the time, though it clearly did when the Health Board elections bill was being drafted, which did, incidentally secure support from other parties.  Even though none of the anti-independence opponents think it’s such a good idea now.  Apparently, giving the vote to 16 and 17 year olds for the referendum – a partial solution – isn’t good enough, even though it was okay for many Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to support it during the AV referendum bill process at Westminster.

This issue has formed but one of the opening skirmishes in the battle over the independence referendum.  It’s like watching two sides engaged in the Haka, each posturing, volumising, gesturing and threatening, with neither actually landing a blow or prepared to do actual damage.  Entertaining the first time you watch it, but already it’s becoming a little tedious.  The sooner we get into a proper debate the better.  And there’s no reason why we should exclude children from that.

While allowing everyone over the age of sixteen a say in our constitutional destiny would be a very good thing, for me, it doesn’t go nearly far enough.  I’d like all children in Scotland to be allowed to vote in the referendum.

Some will think such an idea is preposterous, that we could not possibly entrust something this important to the bairns.  Yet, this is their future too.  Children are well capable of forming an opinion on things from the age of five and enjoy being consulted.  Empowering them to make decisions and take responsibility for their actions is a vital part of children’s development.  Frankly, they are as capable of making an informed decision as the rest of us.  And given the behaviour of the main party political protagonists in this debate in the past week, who’s to say they couldn’t conduct themselves with more decorum?  It might make even make the adults behave, if they knew the weans were watching them.

The way to do it would be through schools – every child is required to be registered with a school and this would form the electoral roll.  It would make a great Curriculum for Excellence project, with a range of age-appropriate resources to enable children to engage in the process and learn about the different options available and what they mean.  Some of us big folk might find that pretty useful too.

They could learn about voting and how to run an election, with every school in the country taking part on referendum day, or in the week running up to it.  Each pupil would be checked off on the school register, handed a ballot paper, and afforded the same rights as adults to a secret ballot.  And just as happens for disabled adults, disabled children could be supported to participate too.  The sealed boxes would then be rushed off to be counted as part of the wider local authority count, with a separate room set aside to ensure that we can discern how the bairns voted from the adults.  That in itself would be fascinating.

It is of course unlikely to happen, if the stushie over votes at 16 is any indicator.  But they should not be excluded from the process.  Resources should be developed now so that children are encouraged to take part in the consultations happening shortly.  And so that they can at least organise mock referendums in schools.  We should know, before we go to the polls, what children think.  Some of us might want to be influenced by their views in working out how we might vote.  After all, it is the children born and still to come who will be living with the consequences of our historic decision in the years ahead.

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  1. Ray Bell says:

    Nothing against 16 year olds voting, but six years old is a bit far.

  2. John Souter says:

    I think it a fantastic idea.

    Whatever the eventual outcome of the ‘real’ referendum, it would introduce the pros and cons through all ages of pre sixteen’s and raise their awareness of its relevance to the nation they are about to inherit.

    1. burdzeyeview says:

      Exactly John. The earlier children engage in democracy, the more they will respect it.

  3. Is there a new strategy in BC to have writers include words in Scots and various other Scottish dialects, so as to befuddle and exclude English readers? In this piece we have ‘stushie’ and ‘craitur’. This seems to be a bit of a movement – is this deliberate or a mark of some kind of new self confidence? Surely this makes BC look like it’s ‘preachin to the convertit’.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Quite right Ewan, strictly Queens English only from now on, we promise.

    2. burdzeyeview says:

      I am proud to be a lowland Scot and to redress the wrong of my early education, when children were belted for speaking their dialect. I sprinkle my blogposts – sometimes liberally – with words in my ain tongue that I use in everyday speech and think we should see more of in print (hint).

    3. You are clearly interested in Scotland and its future, otherwise you wouldn’t be on this site. Why not do as I did and take the opportunity to learn more Scots words? It is a wonderfully expressive language.

      I’m sure that the Burd is not wanting to befuddle and exclude the poor English reader, but to educate?

  4. Albalha says:

    Just had a quick look at where else voting is 16, looks like Austria was the first European country to introduce it in 2008, also Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua.

    1. burdzeyeview says:

      Good enough for them, good enough for us?

  5. And what of Home Educated Children?
    Not sure I like you’re idea anyway, I think opening the vote to anyone above the age of 16 is more than enough – these are people who are entitled to work full time, pay tax, get married and serve in the Armed Forces after all.

    1. burdzeyeview says:

      Good point! Their home is their classroom and that could be their polling place? OR they could vote by post? or – and this really may be pushing the envelope – vote electronically? These are reasons why 16 plus should get the vote, not reasons why children under 16 should not!

  6. Colin Dunn says:

    ”  It’s like watching two sides engaged in the Haka, each posturing, volumising, gesturing and threatening, with neither actually landing a blow or prepared to do actual damage”

    Disagree. I find the Haka thrilling every time ;). Politics, not so much.

    1. burdzeyeview says:

      I like it too but not on an endless loop. Okay how about a gurning competition then?

  7. Teri Forsyth says:

    Kate, I doubt if anyone would ever consider letting children aged 5 have their say, but I do think the topic of Independence should be discussed at all levels in schools. In primary schools topic packs should be made up, that include materials from the union of the crowns and to where we have travelled since then to the present day and are designed at different levels of development and understanding for the different ages. I think also their should be mock hustings culminating in a referendum at the end. The results obviously wont count but would give a clear picture of what this young generation think.

    1. burdzeyeview says:

      Yep couldn’t agree more with their engagement in the process. But like other commenters, you say children shouldn’t have the vote (or rather, that no one is likely to let them have the vote) without saying why not. Genuinely interested to hear your views on why this couldn’t work or shouldn’t happen!

      1. Teri Forsyth says:

        Kate, I dont think it shouldn’t happen, I meant that I dont see governments allowing this. I think such things as ‘the age of reason’, whatever that means being quoted. I believe churches, the law etc have definitive views on what it means but I doubt if any two are the same.

        I dont have a problem with it. If the facts are presented to each age group in language and content at a level appropriate to each age group then I think all children from 5 upwards would be able to decide and most would give a rational reason (rational as pertaining to each group’s level of rationality!) for or against. Often the wisest words come out of the mouths of children whose views of the world have not been tainted by others or by life’s experiences. We should listen to them more often. I sometimes wish I was young again so that I could be wise once more! So, yes, I am in favour and really do want to see our children being given the information, facts and tools to participate in full over the next couple of years.

  8. I think this is a brilliant idea (although 5 year olds might be just stretching it 🙂 My eldest starts at high school next year and we visited the school. One of the classes we were shown was full of local political posters (SNP, local labour MP, even Robin Harper). Clearly this class would be discussing the upcoming referendum, but that be for just the older pupils. Will it be occurring in other schools?

    One thing I hear is that the voting age should be the same as in an election.

    But this isn’t an election, which covers the next 4/5 years. 15 year olds will get their say in an election soon enough. This referendum is likely to the only chance in a generation, and the people it is likely to affect the most, the children, have no say in it.

  9. Graham says:

    Five is a bit low for me. I didn’t even get to decide for myself what pants I was wearing on ma heid when I was five years old. Are most five year olds able to read and write? It could be argued that it would just be giving adults with children extra votes. I welcome the debate, though, and agree that some way must be found to engage primamry school children in the process as well.

    I’m definitely in favour lowering the age limit to at least sixteen and am open to persuasion on lowering it further still. Not just in the referendum, all voting. What age are school pupils asked to elect what subjects they will take? It was thirteen or fourteen when I was at school. Or should it just be that everyone gets the vote as soon as they start high school? Whatever the age limit we agree on, this is something for the people of Scotland to decide ourselves.

  10. MetalSamurai says:

    Uh, children are *not* required to be registered at a school. In Scotland we are fortunate to have a government that is very supportive of Home Education (even if a few local councils vigorously oppose it and regularly mislead and mistreat parents). The requirement is for children to be educated. It’s a parent’s duty to arrange that. Most people opt for the state school system as it gets them free child care, but it it is not the only option.

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