Friday, October 16, 2015

Shock news: this blog agrees with the Minister

The European Union Referendum Bill has had its Second Reading in the Lords and we can begin to work out what the future debates, at Committee and Report stage are likely to be about. Who is to vote in the referendum is going to figure high on the agenda. At present, as Baroness Anelay explained in her opening speech:
This is a vote about the future of the United Kingdom in Europe, so it is right that we use the Westminster franchise as our starting point for this referendum, which is of vital importance to this nation’s future. This means that British citizens in the UK, British citizens who have been abroad for less than 15 years and resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens will have a vote. Noble Lords will already be aware that we have added Members of this House to the franchise, in line with our normal practice for referendums.


Finally, we have added British, Commonwealth and Irish citizens in Gibraltar. The Government believe it is right that Gibraltar should take part. Broadly speaking, the EU treaties apply to Gibraltar, and Gibraltar votes as part of the South West England region of the UK in European parliamentary elections.
The Labour and Lib-Dems are lining up arguments for inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds as well as EU citizens resident in this country.

The argument for EU citizens voting in a referendum that will decide the UK's role as far as the EU is concerned (for reasons mentioned in this blog too often to link to, I dislike the expression "relations with the EU" and shall have no truck with the completely inaccurate "relations with Europe") will affect their status as well as the status of British citizens living in other EU countries. Therefore, those EU citizens should have a say.

Of course, the result of the In/Out referendum will affect many other people who happen to be residing in this country, Americans who work for international firms, for instance; or people who are not EU citizens but have arrived here through another EU country; or students and academics who are here on some form of EU grant or scholarship. Should they all have a vote in the referendum.

Shock number one: this blog agrees with the Minister's argument against extending the vote to EU citizens who have not bothered to take UK citizenship (it is possible to have dual citizenship but not everyone avails himself or, for that matter, herself of that).
Many EU citizens have made the UK their home and have made significant contributions to life in this country. No one would wish to deny that. However, this is a vote about the future of the United Kingdom in Europe so it is right that we use the Westminster franchise as the basis. Using a franchise that does not include other EU nationals is entirely consistent with the practice in other EU member states and with the EU treaties themselves. I suspect that many of the British public would view the inclusion of EU citizens as a crude attempt to fix the result.
A crude attempt to fix the result? Oh surely not!

When it comes to 16 and 17 year-olds voting in the referendum because they did in the Scottish Independence one, I have already written a couple of postings on the subject.

The subject was raised on June 4 when the arguments that were repeated in the Second Reading and will, undoubtedly, be repeated again, were raised. Briefly, the arguments amount to two: 16 and 17-year-olds showed themselves to be very responsible by voting in large numbers in Scotland and the referendum is about the future of this country, which means their future and they should have some say in it.

There is a good deal of evidence that while that age group, almost all of whom live in their parental homes voted in high numbers, the next age group, many of whom have moved out, do not. No parents to march them off to the voting booths, one assumes. I quote several comments in and out of the House in the blog I have linked to.

The referendum is, indeed, about the future of this country but that will affect 14 and 15 year-olds as well as 12 and 13 year-olds. Should they not be given the vote? After all, as a society we do not think that 16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to decide anything for themselves apart from the question of sexual relations. They cannot get married or join the armed forces (one argument brought up in an earlier debate) without their parents' permission. They are not allowed to purchase tobacco or alcohol with or without that permission. And, as of this year, they have no choice in whether they want to continue with their education or not, as I wrote in this posting.

The decision about compulsory education is very recent. Far from allowing that 16 and 17 year-olds are capable of making various decisions, we are taking away the few they have through legislation and reducing them to the status of children.

Let us not forget that there is a proposal (as I wrote in this posting) for giving 17 year-olds the status of children "under all the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act". 16 year-olds have that status already. In other words, and this cannot be repeated often enough, we are treating that age group as children, incapable of making any important decisions, something that is applauded by the very politicians who demand that they be given the vote. Is this another "crude attempt to fix the result"?

Once again, this blog agrees with the Minister. (When I have finished writing this I shall have to go and lie down in a dark room with a wet towel on my forehead.)
Including 16 and 17 year-olds would be a major constitutional change. We do not believe that this Bill, or any other Bill not directly addressing the franchise in general, should be the vehicle for doing this. Any such change should enjoy the support of Parliament and the country as a whole, after a full and proper debate.
Indeed so. An extension of franchise is a separate issue from the referendum. For, if 16 and 17 year-olds who are not old enough in law to make any important decision about their lives to be considered as old enough to vote in a referendum, then why not in an election?


  1. The referendum is, indeed, about the future of this country but that will affect 14 and 15 year-olds as well as 12 and 13 year-olds. Should they not be given the vote?

    Absolutely. The vote is a fundamental human right and everyone should have that right from birth. I'm not sure the average 5-year-old is any more irrational than the average 16-year-old anyway.

    1. I think I said something like that in one of my earlier blogs so I completely agree: that is the logic of that argument.