Wednesday, 14 February 2018

No representation without full responsibility


In introducing the proposal of the Welsh Government for to allow 16 and 17 years olds to vote in local elections, the minister, Alun Davies, said “I think everybody who pays taxes should be able to vote”.  It’s a nice line, with echoes of the ‘no taxation without representation’ slogan used by American colonists in the 18th century as part of their demand for independence.  In the context in which the minister used it, however, it’s utter nonsense.  Few, if any, 16 or 17 year olds pay council tax to the only bodies for which he proposes that they will be allowed to vote; it’s not so much abolishing taxation without representation, more a case of introducing representation without taxation.
They are, of course, also ‘consulting’ on a separate proposal to allow the same group to vote in Assembly elections, as part of a wider consultation on changes to the Assembly; but any government which really believed in the principle being propounded by Alun Davies would have taken that element out and included it in the proposal to extend the franchise.
In a move which I thought curious, in its timing at least, the same government subsequently announced that it is to ban intimate piercings for those under 18, thereby declaring them old enough to have a vote on who should represent them, but still requiring protection from themselves on an age-related basis.  It highlights the strange mish-mash of different ages at which people are considered to be ‘adults’; there is surely a case for aligning them all at one age.  Part of the problem is that people mature at different rates; some people are more mature at 15 than others are at 25.  Short of introducing a test of some sort to determine maturity, the legislation can only work by setting an arbitrary age, but that doesn’t really reflect the reality.
How could we determine, or judge, maturity?  I’m pretty certain that, had 16 and 17 year olds been allowed to vote in June 2016, the result of the referendum on EU membership would have been a lot closer.  Whether that demonstrates maturity or immaturity is entirely a matter of perspective.  One UK government minister rejected the idea of votes at 16 on the basis that young people are not sufficiently mature, but what does he mean by that?  There is no maturity test for voters; indeed, it’s hard to see how there could ever be, because such a test would be necessarily highly subjective.  And him telling an opposition spokesperson to “grow up” doesn’t exactly suggest that maturity is either a requirement for, nor a common attribute among, elected politicians, even of quite an advanced age.
At whatever age the right to vote is given to people, it’s hard then to argue that people who can vote for or against proposals, politicians, and the future of the country are not old enough to make all other decisions for themselves. On balance, I still believe that giving people the vote at 16 is the right thing to do, but proposals such as that on piercings make me wonder whether the proponents have really thought through all the logical consequences.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although I agree there is an inconsistency in Welsh Government policy, the prohibition on intimate piercings for under18s is included in the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 - so it's more accurate to describe it an Assembly rather than a Welsh Government prohibition. Indeed, in the original bill the prohibition was restricted to those under 16 and was subsequently amended, with cross party support,to include 16 and 17 year olds. Call me a pedant but I think it's important to differentiate between the actions of the legislature and the executive, especially given how few people understand the difference between those two things in the devolved context.

John Dixon said...

I suppose that I could also be pedantic and argue that the Welsh Government changed its policy between publication of the original Bill and the Bill being passed by the Assembly so that it is now Government policy; but you make a fair point and I accept the correction, not least because I very much agree with your point about differentiating between the legislature and the executive.

Jeff Smith said...

Surely part of the difference with voting is that the chance only comes up every 5 years. So the average starting age for starting to vote (assuming 5-year terms) would be 18.5 rather than 20.5 years old. At the moment someone can almost reach their 23rd birthday having never had a chance to vote in a particular type of election. With votes at 16, everyone will have had the chance to vote for every type of election by the time they're 21.

Anonymous said...

... and I'd very much like to learn/hear more about this differentiation between legislature and executive ...

Perhaps it could be the subject of another entry.

Anonymous said...

Anon 23:03 here again. I wasn't suggesting that the prohibition wasn't Welsh Government policy - the amendment made to the bill was indeed a government amendment. My point was solely that the prohibition itself has been introduced by an Act of the Assembly. So it is the law of Wales that requires it - not the government.