Isla Leslie: Votes at 16

As a 17 year old living in Scotland, it seems as if politics could not get any more exciting. In the midst of Local Council Elections as well as thinking ahead to the possible second Scottish Independence Referendum, I could not feel more involved with the democracy of Scotland on both a local and national level.

However, last week’s news of Theresa May’s ‘Snap’ General Election to take place in June of this year slightly dampened my spirits. Because as a 17 year old living in the UK as a whole, politics doesn’t welcome my involvement with such open arms.
This election will offer Scotland and the UK a massive choice on how the country is run. However, there’s one small catch for me. Unlike the Local Council Elections and Independence Referendum, I won’t have a say.

Under current UK law, the minimum voting age for local elections in the UK is 18. This means that although, this year I’m faced with the responsibilities of sitting my Highers, learning to drive, applying for universities and many more, I cannot vote for how I want the country I live in to be run.

Scotland’s Independence Referendum in 2014 saw 16 and 17 year having the chance to vote for the first time ever in the UK. Although I was not eligible to vote at the time, It was extremely evident that this responsibility had engaged young people in politics with around 100,000 under-18s – 80 per cent of the eligible total – signing up to vote. And when it came to voting day, 16 and 17 year olds did not disappoint expectations when 76% voted, compared with 54% of 18-24 year olds and 72% of 25-34 year olds.

Just 9 months prior to the 2014 referendum, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to reduce the voting age to 16 for Scottish Parliament elections and Scottish local government elections. On the 5th of May 2016, I had the opportunity to be involved in the decision making process of my country when I voted in my first Scottish Election.

Since then, I have gotten involved in my local Youth Forum, stood as a candidate in the 2017 Scottish Youth Parliament elections, attended my first SNP conference, and generally put myself forward for any opportunity to be involved in politics and decision making whether it be in Orkney or Scotland as a whole. For this reason, I can’t help feeling like the upcoming General Election is a massive step back for the progress of youth engagement in politics.

Being faced with a General Election straight off the back of the UK’s controversial vote to leave the EU last June – which I also did not have a say in – is slightly terrifying. As I try to plan my next steps in life, the fact that the future for Scotland and the UK is more than uncertain is a major distraction. And what makes the situation for me even harder is my incapability to actually do anything at all about it.

So, I say this to the government at Westminster – This is our futures, give us the vote.

Isla Leslie is a regular columnist with The Orkney News

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