Somehow, and somewhat surprisingly, the Guardian's "Comment is Free" section managed to have an article that I almost managed to agree with. (Mostly, it's a bastion of sloppy thinking and inanity, which is a real shame, since I should agree with most of the positions taken.)
Anyway, the article argues that we (that is, the UK) should give votes to 16- and 17-year-olds, and that way they'll be more engaged with politics.
Now, some time ago, I posted to the effect that 16- and 17-year-olds should not be given the vote in the Scottish Referendum, for the simple reason that they don't get the vote in General Elections, Scottish Elections, Local Elections, or European Elections. However, in the same post I also noted that there was a wider debate about that that we should have, and indeed that it is wrong that a 16-year-old can work, and thus be required to pay taxes, but not have the vote. (Because the Americans were absolutely right about "no taxation without representation".)
Anyway, one of the consequences of giving the vote to that group for the referendum is that, rather interestingly, we actually do now seem to have a fairly politics-savvy and involved group of teenagers in this country. When last the band played in Falkirk town centre, the Yes campaign were being represented (on that day) by their youth team, who were both articulate and informed. And the younger members of the band, who I heard talking on that day were likewise engaged in the debate, mostly on the other side.
(Incidentally, I'm frequently amused by some of the discussion around this. It seems to be a widely held belief that the SNP extended the franchise for this referendum because of a belief that our teens would be swayed by a romantic Braveheart-esque notion of "Freedom!", and also that this is a gambit that has badly backfired. This neglects that it has been SNP policy for decades to extend the franchise, it was a manifesto commitment, and that this is the first time they've been able to implement their pledge.)
However, I said in the first paragraph that I only almost agreed with the article.
The thing is, as far as I can tell, the reason that Scottish teens are engaged in the referendum debate is that, fundamentally, it matters. One way or another, this is a big decision, with a direct and lasting effect on all our lives.
Conversely, as far as I can tell, the reason so many 18- to 24-year-olds aren't engaged in mainstream UK politics (and nobody is very engaged in European election politics) is that, frankly, it doesn't matter. Both the Labour and Conservative parties are now dominated by a particular breed of career politicians, who were educated at exclusive schools and then Oxbridge, did internships arranged for them by Daddy (or Mummy), and then got safe seats somewhere. Worse, the two parties are both signed up for very slight variations on the same package of austerity-cuts/EU-sceptic/business-first measures. So, whoever you vote for, the government wins.
Faced with that, it's no wonder so many people really don't care. And, faced with that, there's no reason 16- and 17-year-olds would be any different.
So, I do indeed agree with extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds. If they're old enough to have children, and if they're old enough to work and pay taxes, then they're old enough to vote. But if you expect that, by itself, to lead to them being engaged with politics you are bound to be disappointed. For that, we need some new politicians - 650, by my count.