Why votes at 16 matter.
I've got in my hand a flyer given out by Scottish Youth Parliament activists on the Gude Cause suffragette march the weekend before last. It lists what sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds can do, or can be made to do.
They point out that this age group can be tried in court as an adult, join the army, own their own home, and pay taxes, but not vote.
It's a persuasive argument, even if discrimination against the young is in one sense more egalitarian than discrimination against women or members of ethnic minorities. We were all young once, even Bill Aitken.
The reason I'm so committed to this cause is a little different, though.
Last year we had a young man in our Holyrood office on a work placement arranged by his school. These can be a bit high maintenance and sometimes of dubious value, but he was smart as hell, immediately got the basics of writing a press release, and fitted in from the start. He was also very politically aware, and pretty passionate.
He was fifteen at the time, and he had done the sums. He knew he'd turn eighteen in 2011, just a couple of months after the next Holyrood election, and wouldn't get a say in a Scottish election until he was practically twenty-two, seven years away.
Another very good friend of mine is in a similar position. He'll be a year and a month too young to vote in the 2011 elections, and (assuming the next UK cycle is four years long) he'll be in his twenties before he gets to vote either for Westminster or Holyrood. He'll just miss the 2012 Scottish locals, too, so won't get to vote for his local councillors until he's almost twenty-three.
Like our work placement friend, he's very politically literate, very knowledgeable and passionate about the issues. But politicians can safely ignore him as long as the voting age remains at eighteen.
The idea you can vote at eighteen is, after all, awfully contingent on there being an election on your eighteenth birthday, and the current arrangement means a lot of people in their twenties will have had no opportunity to vote for at least one of the levels of government that matters. Just wrong.
"Votes at sixteen" is therefore slightly misleading, although I see why they chose it. Plenty of people much older than that will get disenfranchised too, and the problem is much wider than people normally think.
Some patronising fools claim we can't trust these young people to vote responsibly. Just as with the older generations, though, many of those who don't care or don't know anything about politics simply won't vote at all. And who are we to say what a responsible vote is anyway? Let the (young) people decide for themselves.