Voting at 16 should not be used to lower age restrictions – Scotsman comment

At what age does a child become an adult?

Currently, this deceptively simple question has a number of different answers. For example, in the justice system, children become criminally responsible at the age of 12, but only serious offences will end up in court, while young offenders’ institutions house people aged 16 to 21.

You can get a moped licence at 16, but most must wait until they are 17 to drive a car or ride a motorbike. Shops are legally required not to sell alcohol to under-18s, prompting many retailers to require ID from anyone who looks under 21 or 25.

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And, of course, since the 2014 independence referendum, people have been able to vote in Scotland from the age of 16, although they must wait until 18 for Westminster elections. According to a new study by academics from Edinburgh and Sheffield universities, giving 16-year-olds the right to vote has helped to get them into the habit, with positive, long-term consequences for turnout and democracy.

This might prompt some to think that it would be better to have a single age at which children become adults. However, given more than 200 children, including some aged just ten, have been suspended from school since April 2019 after being found drunk or in possession of alcohol, few would argue that lowering age restrictions on buying alcohol would be a good idea. Vehicle accident statistics also show that young men are among the most accident-prone demographic groups.

Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, passed by Holyrood but set to be blocked by Westminster, would have enabled people to change their gender without a medical diagnosis and reduced the age limit to 16. One argument used to support this was that people are allowed to vote at that age so they should be able to make a decision about their gender. On Sunday, Labour leader Keir Starmer said he did not think 16 was old enough, a concern The Scotsman shares.

Despite the bureaucratic appeal of one simple threshold, there are a number of good reasons why the boundary should continue to be blurred. Voting at 16 may have long-term, beneficial effects, but it does not come with life-long consequences for the person casting it. Giving the young generation more time to come of age is no bad thing.

The apparent success of voting at 16 should not be used as an argument to lower other age restrictions (Picture: Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)

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