Wednesday 13-06-2018 - 00:00
The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 granted equal voting rights to everyone over the age of 21, and to mark 90 years since the Act became law, the Houses of Parliament has developed EqualiTeas which is a UK-wide festival celebrating our right to vote.
Organisations, community groups, schools, colleges, universities and individuals are being encouraged to host tea parties and other events from 18 June to 2 July to share, debate and celebrate our democratic rights and discuss equality.
While this is an important milestone, as we sip our cuppas let's not forget that in reality, we are still not a very equal society at all.
Working class students still face insurmountable barriers to getting in, and getting on, in education; there is still a stubborn attainment gap between Black and white students in higher education; there are persistent inequalities in equal marriage and the right to safe abortion in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. And in terms of the right to vote, there is now a fundamental inequity of rights in the UK, with over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds currently being denied a say in how their country is run.
If you happen to live in Scotland, you can celebrate your sixteenth birthday by exercising your legal right to have sex, join the Armed Forces, and vote in elections to the devolved Parliament. If you live in Wales, you have the first two rights, and are likely to soon have the third. If you live in England and Northern Ireland, you will not be able to vote at all.
As far as we can see, the ability to vote is decided by a ‘postcode lottery’, where the rights you are afforded depends on where you happen to live. This is all the more stark when we consider the situation of 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland, who are now able to vote for their local representatives in Holyrood, but have no say in who will form the next government in Westminster.
To address this inequity, NUS is continuing to campaign with the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the British Youth Council (BYC) to extend the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. There is strong cross-party support for this campaign, with a growing number of Conservatives now backing Votes at 16, so we have a real opportunity to lower the voting age across all UK elections.
On 11 May, a private members bill to lower the voting age to 16 had its second reading in the Commons. It was presented by the Labour MP for Hove & Portslade, Peter Kyle, and was seconded by Nicky Morgan MP, the Conservative former Education Secretary. Unfortunately, Mr Kyle was given just under half an hour to present his bill and for other MPs to debate the proposals, so there wasn’t enough time for a vote on the bill.
However, the campaign is far from over. The second reading of the bill on will take place later this year on Friday 26 October, so we need to keep up the momentum. This is why we are encouraging SUs to host their own EqualiTeas events from 18 June to 2 July to celebrate this important anniversary and raise awareness about the work that still needs to be done to really achieve equality.
To get some ideas and resources to help you run your event, please visit the EqualiTeas website here We also want you to:
- Contact your MP by post, email, phone or social media and ask them to meet with them during the EqualiTeas festival to discuss Votes at 16 ahead of the vote on Friday 26 October
- Encourage your students to contact their MP during the EqualiTeas festival (both their home and term-time MPs if different) and ask them to vote in support of Votes at 16 on Friday 26 October (you can find your MP’s details here )
- Get together with your friends to create a short video on a phone or tablet addressed to your MP with three key messages:
1) Why we can’t celebrate real equality yet.
2) Why votes at 16 is important.
3) Asking them to attend the reading of the Private Members' Bill on Friday 26 October.
You can then post your video on Twitter, @ing your MP and using the hashtags #Votesat16 and #EqualiTeas during the EqualiTeas festival between 18 June and 2 July – please include @NUSUK and we will be sure to retweet you!
Let’s keep Votes at 16 near the top of the political agenda to ensure that we can celebrate real equality in the coming years.