Age-old question should be addressed
Should Scotland be a forerunner in allowing 16 and 17-year-olds the the right to vote in all elections?
I note Lord Forsyth’s concerns about the proposed extension of the franchise to include that age group in the forthcoming independence referendum (your report, 11 October).
It may well be “inevitable” that this would mean that over-16s would be handed the vote for all elections in the UK. But is there anything wrong with that?
The ban on smoking in enclosed public places was one of the most radical health measures for a generation but it was applied first in Scotland from March 2006 and then two years later south of the Border.
Even more controversially, the community charge was introduced here in 1989 and then a year later in the rest of the UK.
I accept that it did prove unpopular and later had to be scrapped. But the precedent of introducing some measures first in Scotland and later elsewhere had been set.
Equally, reforms on divorce and homosexuality were applied first in England and Wales in the 1960s and almost a decade later in Scotland.
Lord Forsyth also seems to be worried that giving young people the vote would “bring politics into schools”. But there is already a long tradition of mock hustings in schools at election times. Sometimes the actual candidates themselves are invited to speak. The challenge for the education authorities is to make sure that everything is conducted in as impartial a way as possible.
The case for teaching modern studies in schools would surely be enhanced by allowing pupils to debate knowing that this time they had more than an academic role to play.
Almost every attempt to extend the franchise in the past 200 years has faced a block from vested interests.
This is one that should be grasped with enthusiasm by all those interested in the democratic process and its history.
Quite apart from the demerits per se in votes at 16, it is outrageous that any government should agree to such a major constitutional change without considered public debate and as a quid-pro-quo for a single question.
In accordance with Tim Flinn’s own formula (Letters, 11 October), we already live in a non-sensible democracy.
A target figure of 40 per cent for a Yes vote being missed in the 1979 devolution referendum, when only 34 per cent voted Yes, was criticised as a constitutional aberration.
In 1998, with no guidelines, a 75 per cent Yes vote, with only a 60 per cent turnout resulted in devolution going ahead even though only 45 per cent of the electorate had voted Yes, with 55 per cent voting No, or not voting at all.
With Westminster in charge then (as now) the Labour 176 majority and its evangelical pursuance of devolution meant there were no barriers – another constitutional aberration.
Claims that the Scottish Parliament would kill Nationalism stone dead were ill-founded. Indeed, the parliament assisted the advance of the SNP.
Individual and political opinions and actions are biased depending on whether they are in favour or against a proposition – when these defy rationality that, too, is a constitutional aberration.
Regarding “children” voting, they are regarded as mature in other contexts. But what about the preponderance of immature adults? Should they be excluded too? And should the 400,000 plus voters of English nationality be allowed to vote on what is a Scottish constitutional issue? Should we make voting compulsory? And, for such a major constitutional decision, should the Yes vote be required to attract a two-thirds majority?
Why are we having imposed on us a single question on independence, for which there is about only 30 per cent support, while being precluded from including a question on additional powers, for which support is over 60 per cent, and which could easily be fitted on to the ballot paper?
Because, if we have a No vote for independence there will be a vacuum – do we retain the current status quo, or would the discredited Calman proposals, about which we hear so little, and which are lurking within the Scotland Act 2012, be clicked in to place as the panacea for our future constitution?
The danger is that we sleep-walk, by default, into an unapproved constitutional morass without having the means to prevent it – that does not sound sensible to me.
Douglas R Mayer
Although 80 per cent of us did not support the current SNP administration at the most recent election, the SNP still rules us.
Will independence be forced upon us by a similarly unpopular mandate?
Devolution, as Donald Dewar wisely said, is a process, not an event. The same can be said of independence and I was very pleased that Bill Jamieson (Perspective, 11 October) was able to remove much of the present fog around it.
Apart from all the mechanics to be negotiated, he makes the key point that “independence will, of itself, help release our entrepreneurial energies: it will bring about a cultural change, releasing our animal spirits.
“It will, in short, be transformative of our economic performance.”
Against a background of very low turnout and a collapse of trust in the political system, a participatory democracy instead of a being merely representative will emerge to the betterment of all in Scotland as well as for the wider world around us.
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