Youth must rock the vote: get teens into politics
(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)
The Auld Shinner jibe of ‘Vote Early, Vote Often’, will solve the apathy crisis across Ireland as elections loom, especially the Northern Commons poll on 7 May.
Now hold yer horses! I’m not advocating breaking the law, but providing the solution to getting more young people to engage with the political process.
While the Grey Brigade of elderly voters rule the roost when it comes to getting their asses into the polling booths, if we are not to face the embarrassing democratic nightmare of politicians being elected on only 30% turnouts, we need to mobilise our young people.
The voting age in Ireland – both in the North and South – must be lowered to 14, and schools have a vital role to play in making Voting Studies a compulsory subject on the curriculum. Shinner schools boss John O’Dowd please take note!
Likewise, it’s time for Westminster, Stormont and the Dáil to adopt the Australian system where voting is also compulsory.
The Shinners and Dupes are masters at getting their respective voters out and both parties have very active youth wings. But that’s not enough if the democratic process is to survive.
The more fanatical the parties, the better they are at getting their supporters out – just look at the rise of Nigel Farage’s hardline Right-wing Ukip, which could easily be one of the key parties along with the DUP and SNP holding the balance of power after the Commons General Election.
Young people should be encouraged to join a political party as soon as they leave primary education and move into secondary schools to prepare them for their first voting opportunities after they reach 14.
The fuddy-duddies will yap that kids are too young at 14 to understand the complexities of government. This will not happen if the schools grasp the nettle of voter apathy and teach young people how important it is to engage with the democratic process.
And new electronic systems of voting must be introduced. If we can have electronic banking and students can have their work assessed through electronic portfolios, then we can have electronic voting using the internet, social media and using mobile phones.
Just look at the millions of folk who regularly vote in prime time shows, such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.
There’s quite a few candidates running in the North – and even across the UK – who would give their eye teeth to chalk up the responses.
I’m not suggesting the influential Grey Brigade are computer-illiterate, but many elderly folk still prefer the physical jaunt to the polling station. Supermarkets and shopping centres should also provide polling booths.
And if we lower the voting age to 14, the age of sexual consent must also be dropped to 14. But again, both the Christian Churches and schools must provide comprehensive sex education lessons.
I spent my teens in the Young Unionists, the UUP’s youth wing. But in all those years, I can only recall two meetings where the views of us Young Unionists were seriously considered by our elders.
I have always been an unashamed and unrepentant radical Right-wing Unionist. But in my teenage years, North Antrim Ulster Unionism was dominated by liberal Unionist views. Radical viewpoints were dismissed as quickly as a Celtic goalkeeper in a Scottish Cup match.
During election canvassing, we were sent to out of the way parts of the constituency where we could not cause any bother.
The politicians will only take young people seriously when they get off their asses and vote.
And if the MPs won’t listen, take a leaf out of Sinn Féin’s history and set up an alternative ‘House of Commons’ in Ireland, just as the Shinners used their 1918 victory to establish Dáil Eireann.
April 28, 2015________________
This article appeared in the April 27, 2015 edition of the Irish Daily Star.