On the 16 vote…

15-year-old Annie Shields will be one of the many under-18s getting the chance to vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. She tells us how she feels about the lowered voting age.

Sitting down to write this, I was still undecided as to whether or not I thought 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the independence referendum in 2014. When I first heard the SNP were proposing this I was all for it as I am 15 now and would only be eligible to vote if they extended the age bracket. I would love the chance to have that power and feel like I have some level of control over the future of the country I grew up in, no matter how small. Then I started thinking beyond myself – a rare occurrence for teenage girls, I know. I thought of everyone else my age and realized that, while a few of my friends have carefully formed opinions on independence which they have developed and debated within their modern studies classes, the majority really couldn’t care less.

While it may be a generalisation to say that most teenagers sit at home playing the Xbox, texting and watching TV somehow all at once, it is true that not many of us really take the time to sit down and read the paper or even watch the news. This limits our exposure to the world of politics and the whole independence debate, meaning many teenagers form opinions based either on what their parents say – which I feel detracts from the significance us having the vote in the first place – or on how much they love Braveheart/hate the English.  In the end however, personal prejudice won and I decided that I have an opinion; I want to vote and it seems only fair that I should have a say in the future of my country just like everyone a year or more older than me, even if  my motivations are selfish.

Those of us who don’t have a clue what is happening will need to be made aware of the situation and all the possible outcomes before 2014. I wouldn’t think twice before skipping past a documentary on independence when flicking through TV channels but that doesn’t mean that if I heard someone talking about it I wouldn’t listen. If we could spend a morning in school having the basic issues explained to us then it would lay the foundations for an educated vote rather than a guess at what we think will work best. That being said, we have to consider the SNP’s reasons for giving us the vote in the first place. Are they really that concerned we get our say or are they simply hoping that our lack of understanding and impressionable young minds will swing a few more pro-independence votes?

Obviously there are lots of things we would need to consider, especially as this is something that will drastically affect the rest of our lives. Young people suffering the heightened economic risks which come from starting university or entering the workforce may have to learn to use a new currency and have to deal with the tension it would create with our English neighbours. But it is also us who will have a new sense of patriotism and liberation.

My own opinion on independence is irrelevant to this debate; the point is I have one, just like a lot of other teenagers out there who are grateful for and deserving of the vote. Maybe all the people worried about how we’ll cope with the responsibility or how we might be influenced too easily should worry about all the adults out there with the uncontested right to vote who have just as little interest in or understanding of independence as the teenagers they’re complaining about.

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