Monday, October 2, 2017

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Let Young Vote

The Irish political landscape would be dramatically changed if the voting age was lowered to 14 with Citizenship Studies added to the mandatory curriculum in all post primary schools. In his latest Fearless Flying Column, controversial political commentator, Dr John Coulter, maintains that a British Labour/DUP coalition is just the tonic to make this a reality.

We’re doomed! The immortal words from the deep Celtic accent of Private Frazer from the hit sitcom, Dad’s Army, could well summarise the impending gloom hanging over the Ulster peace process in spite of repeated hints from Dublin that things are being steadily nudged forward.

Stormont seems to be on the slippery slope to formal suspension and the imposition of Tory Direct Rule from Westminster – not that the two main parties would mind! It would bail both the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein out of the respective political pits they have tumbled into since January.

The DUP is locked into a deal to prop up the minority Tory Government on essential votes; Sinn Fein doesn’t take its Commons seats and is more interested in becoming a minority partner in the next Dublin administration.

Secretly, it appears these two main power-sharing Executive parties at Stormont don’t want a return of Stormont rule. That’s because there’s so many tough austerity cuts to be implemented in Northern Ireland and neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP want to shoulder the blame for imposing them on health and schools.

The DUP crows about the multi-million pound bonanza it secured for hopping into bed politically with Theresa May, but people on the ground have seen little evidence of this supposed cash boost.

Sinn Fein is more interested in beating the Brexit drum to secure a border poll, but it sees the road to Irish unity as coming from the Dail in Dublin rather than Stormont in Belfast. So could British Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn come up with a workable agenda which could break the Stormont impasse?

Labour – and Corbyn personally – hold a massive ace card; the youth vote. Three revolutionary steps could see a Labour administration back in power for at least a decade – and Stormont back in business in a flash.

Step one – introduce compulsory voting similar to the Australian system. Step two – lower the voting age to 14, yes I said 14! And step three, introduce mandatory lessons on citizenship in all post primary schools and colleges throughout the UK.

Mainstream parties in Northern Ireland are continually yapping on about the need to combat voter apathy and become more appealing to the youth vote. If Corbyn includes my ‘three steps to political heaven’ in his next manifesto, he should sweep into Downing Street faster than you could scream ‘Jeremy for PM!’

And don’t spin me the old record that modern teens are too immature to be given the vote at 14. There’s a lot of very bright young teens in Irish society, who if given the right opportunity, could play a genuine part in bringing common sense politics to Ireland.

I was greatly impressed with the questioning and the level of debate produced by the young folk who participated in the BBC Northern Ireland’s excellent new Wednesday evening TV debate show, The Top Table, ably as always presented by Stephen Nolan.

If ever there was ‘in your face’ evidence of the need to reduce the current voting age, Stephen Nolan presented the living proof. The quality of debate was outstanding, as young people of various backgrounds grilled a range of political figures.

This was excellent cross-generation debating at its very best and if ever political parties wanted to take the pulse of the youth vote, then The Top Table is compulsive viewing.

Critics may point out that Tories and wannabe Labour parties have been crushed in recent Northern Ireland polls as the nationalist and unionist communities rally behind the ‘Big Two’ Orange and Green movements. Unionists have unified behind the DUP, cutting the Ulster Unionists adrift, and Sinn Fein has all but electorally slaughtered the SDLP, the latter once being hailed as British Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland.

If there’s such political entrenchment in Northern Ireland, how would my Three Steps help Labour, you may well cry?

The fear factor of ‘the others might win’ certainly mobilised many middle class voters, but not the teenage youth vote. Giving poll responsibility to a 14 plus age group will energise a massive number of young people for whom the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is merely a date in their history books.

Ireland has now moved beyond the post-conflict generation into the post-peace process society. The problem is that there are too many political representatives running Stormont who are still part of the society which endured the Troubles.

If Corbyn’s appeal to the teenage youth vote in mainland Britain could be replicated and expanded in Northern Ireland, a whole new political landscape will be created. This will force the DUP and Sinn Fein to take seriously the concept of teen power, and introducing Citizen Studies into the curriculum will ensure those young people not only understand the political process, but develop agendas which are not ‘pie in the sky policies’.

Okay, many post primary schools have had to reduce the number of subjects being offered to make ends meet and balance the books as budgets are consistently squeezed.

But if there is to be real light at the end of the political tunnel, then investing in our children is the solution. To coin a much-used political maxim – our victory will be the laughter of our children.

Sinn Fein has been able to push a Marxist agenda disguised as militant nationalism; the DUP has been able to use its tough Right-wing stance on the Union to hide its soft socialist underbelly in terms of bread and butter issues.

If the 14 plus band cannot influence Sinn Fein and the DUP to bring back devolution, then Corbyn must take up the political cudgels seriously in Northern Ireland and allow British Labour for formally contest elections.

My Three Steps may sound revolutionary and radical, but if the Tories cannot break the Stormont stalemate, will Northern Ireland have to face the pain of school closures, the NHS buckling, and the elderly having to make the stark choice of either ‘heating or eating’? Maybe it will take the agony of Direct Rule to bring Northern Ireland’s politicians to their senses.

The flip side is that if Direct Rule is imposed, and May’s Government falls in spite of DUP MPs, then could a Labour/DUP coalition bring a new breath of fresh air into the logjam?

The big benefit for the 14 plus lobby could be an end to the ‘brain drain’ in Northern Ireland which sees so many talented teenagers leave for good. A ballot paper at 14 could well be the ticket which persuades them to stay.


➽Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter

2 comments :

DaithiD said...

I find it very depressing to see children canvassing for mainstream parties, they just come across like future sadistic bastards.One step away from the Khymer Rouge youth that executed their elders. So no, the less involvement they have in politics the better, if anything raise it to 25 when male brains are fully formed (by extension of equality this would apply to females, and all genders in between and not)

Steve R said...

As daft ideas go, this takes some beating. Giving 14 year old's the vote? All that angst ridden, hormone raging misdirected fury? I could just see the Jedi Party being founded in combat the Alt-Right.

I'd argue that voting should be restricted to those over 60, that way life experience will have tempered voters decisions and stopped self serving politicians from jumping on cause célèbre to further their own interest.