As I watch BBC’s Question Time tonight, I rejoice in an audience packed with young people.
These days that’s a great sight to see – many young people taking part in the country’s top political discussion programme. Politics frankly is such a turn-off to most young people today.
I’ve always thought my children know a lot about politics as we discuss issues at home frequently. My smugness about this was quickly dispersed this week when one of my children asked me first – what is democracy? And second – how do you get to become an MP? The fact was that she hadn’t even grasped the one key feature in the answer to both of these questions – the vote.
I have always voted – I’m not going to tell you who I’ve voted for, except to say I’ve not always voted for the same political party. I was brought up in a family where it would have been absolutely scandalous not to use that right. The view was always – don’t complain about the government if you’ve not bothered to cast your vote.
My grandad, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 88, went further. He used to tell me that people died for the vote for women and we should honour that fact. He lived through times of political turmoil and horror – WW1, the 1926 General Strike and WW2. He worked in a dangerous and vital industry – coal mining. He was a big, generous-hearted, hard drinking man who could barely read. But it was him who took his bass drum around the local villages in Somerset to let them know that WW2 was over. (His drum is now in Radstock Museum).
Back to the vote. I don’t live in Somerset any more but my adopted home of Wiltshire boasts a proud heritage around the suffragettes who marched through Marlborough. One of the leading suffragettes, Edith New, was a school teacher from Swindon. She was the first person to protest by chaining herself to railings. She went to prison and went on hunger strike to defend her beliefs.
Scotland is allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote when residents vote for or against independence next year. I think this is a good thing – capturing people’s imagination over politics as early as possible is important. I have some suspicion about why this is going to happen – is it because the Scottish government really want more people to vote or do they hope it will swing the vote one way or the other? Maybe that’s just the cynic in me.
We’ll see. However the day that anyone aged 16 or over can be represented will be a good day for democracy.