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Churchill Parliament Edited

Addressing the democratic deficit

Martyn Day MP
January 14, 2019

Martyn Day MP believes the democratic deficit is a fundamental catalyst in fuelling youth disenfranchisement in our political process.

It is a prime example of double standards that 16 and 17-year-olds are denied their full citizenship rights by being excluded from having their vote counted, whilst at the same time they are allowed to join the armed forces to defend the rights of older civilians.  Apart from the fact that these servicemen and women are taxpayers who have not been enabled to participate in the UK's so-called democratic parliamentary system, six per cent of initial British fatalities in the most recent Iraq war were disenfranchised and therefore unable to have a say in who represented them in government (Reeves and Thishani, 2010).   

The Scottish National Party (SNP) believes young people are valuable members of society who should be able to vote when they can work; most especially when they are working to protect the freedoms and rights of other members of society.  I find it hard to exemplify a more politically active involvement than a young person joining the armed forces, being aware of the very real possibility that they will take part in armed combat, often to protect their country's values.  It is unjustifiable in my mind that we deny these dutiful young people, amongst others, the right to have a say in their future.  One of the best ways we can show young people that they are valued is to let them vote and encourage their involvement in, not contribute to their distancing from, electoral politics.

In Scotland the SNP have delivered voting from the age of 16, giving young people a say in their future.  First extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, under 18s in Scotland can now vote in local and Scottish Parliament elections.  That they are denied their right to do so in UK elections sends a clear message that their opinion is not valued; reflecting the overarching principle that in Westminster Scottish opinion, in general, is not valued.  That Members of the Scottish Parliament voted to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds in Scottish elections on the very same day that Members of Parliament in Westminster opposed an amendment to give under 18s the franchise highlights just one aspect of the current democratic deficit.

Take, as a prime example, the 2016 European Union referendum.  Here young people were denied the chance to have a say in their future, despite the fact that these young people are the very ones who will have to live longer with the consequences of the referendum outcome.  If one considers that these young people study our democracy, our electoral system and the importance of voting, but are denied participation in the same system, the status quo "could well be accelerating young people's disillusionment with formal politics" (Reeves and Thishani, 2010).  Looked at another way, it is reasonable to argue that because our parliamentary system ignores the opinion of around one million young people it is unsurprising that there has been a downward trend in the political engagement of under 25 year olds because they have not been given the opportunity to form a voting habit. 

I believe the time has come for whatever archaic reasoning that has excluded 16 and 17-year-olds from UK democracy thus far to be cast aside, and that young people who pay tax and fight and die for their country should be considered capable of contributing to a democratic society.  The Scottish Independence referendum was a stellar example of how giving the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds led to greater political engagement with 75 per cent of this age group voting and 97% saying they would do so in the future.


Martyn Day is the Scottish National Party MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. He is the SNP's Health and Social Care Westminster Spokesperson.

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