A historic moment for democracy
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Monday’s announcement of a legally binding referendum on Scottish independence wasn’t simply a historic moment for those calling for the end to the United Kingdom as we know it - it was also a historic moment for democracy in Scotland. The powers given to the Scottish Parliament by the UK Government will most likely result in 16 and 17 year old Scots being given the opportunity to fully participate in the biggest decision the nation has ever taken. Calling on for the voting age to be lowered is something that campaigning groups such as the Scottish Youth Parliament and the British Youth Council has been arguing for many years. Indeed all the parties who have representatives at the Scottish Parliament, excluding the Conservatives, have agreed that the franchise should be lowered to 16. The calls are intrinsically linked to the idea that with great rights come great responsibilities. When a young person turns 16 in Scotland they can leave school, get married or enter a civil partnership, get a full-time job, pay taxes, leave home, play the Lotto, consent to having sexual relationships, change their name by deed poll and join the armed forces. Yet that very same young person is deemed not to be responsible enough to cast their vote at an election. By giving these young people all these new responsibilities on their 16th birthday, it surely should go hand in hand with granting them the vote. The same arguments that being used against lowering the voting age are the exact same as the ones that were used after 1918 Representation of the People Act which only permitted women over the age of 30 to vote. These arguments were that women would not be mature enough or have enough information as to make an informed choice at the ballot. In 2012 is would seem nonsensical to differentiate between sexes in relation to the franchise. However those same arguments of maturity and being informed are the key arguments being used to deny those 16 and 17 years olds the vote across the UK.
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