In the wake of the Labour Party’s failed amendment to the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill aiming to extend the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds, Nancy Kelly from NatCen Social Research reports on findings from the recent British Social Attitudes Survey. Participants were asked “which of these comes closest to your view about the age at which people should be able to vote in a general election in Britain?”. The options were 16, 18, 21 or “can’t choose”. The majority of respondents (60%) favoured leaving things as they are; 19% favoured lowering the age to 16; and 16% favoured raising the age to 21. Analysing further, they found that Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters were more likely to support lowering the voting age than supporters of the Conservative Party. In addition, respondents from Scotland were almost twice as likely to support votes at 16 than those in England, a result they said was unsurprising given current policy in Scotland has given 16- and 17-year-olds a vote in local and national elections since 2015. The progression of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill through the Welsh Assembly makes it likely that Wales will follow suit with the lowering of the voting age for local or national elections.
Time for a Written Constitution?
Harrison Shaylor provides a summary of a recent debate hosted by the Constitution Unit at University College London. Arguing for a written constitution, Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott claims that the current settlement is deficient for three main reasons. First, it lacks clarity, potentially leading to uncertainty around matters such as the legal role of referendums. Second, it is not strong enough on cementing human rights in public life, with the legislative approach taken through the Human Rights Act open to repeal by government. Finally, Professor Douglas-Scott argues the current devolved settlement requires a written constitution that sets out the complex relationships between Westminster and the devolved administrations. Providing opposing points, Professor Nicholas Barber praises the flexibility of the UK’s unwritten constitution, arguing that it dealt well with the political uncertainty of the last three years. He is doubtful whether a written constitution would have been any more successful. He also warns against romanticising the idea of a written constitution, stating that they are often either too short and too general to be a practical guide for governing a state, or too long and complex to be accessible to ordinary citizens.