“We were talking about the referendum, then she randomly said, ‘Vote Conservative!’” My head hit my hands at an earth-shattering rate. This is it. I’ve heard it all. There’s nothing on this planet that can instil a shred of surprise in me.

My friend had been telling me about a conversation she’d been having with some people on her bus – a group of 18-year-olds trying to make sense of the newfound responsibility they’d been given upon the announcement of the EU referendum, scheduled for 23 June. The unfortunate thing about the conversation was that very few had any idea of how to vote, who to listen to and, most importantly, what a referendum is.

But this isn’t such an abstract issue. In fact, it’s rather a common one.

The Scottish Independence referendum of 2014 saw an astonishing turnout of 84.5%. It should also be noted that this was one of the first referenda in which 16-17 year olds were given the right to vote. Surely this should set some kind of precedent for nationwide referenda. We are after all a state in the midst of a ‘participation crisis’. This sense of political activity is something that, as a nation, we are greatly lacking, and have been for some considerable time. It’s estimated by Prof Neil McNaughton, a politics academic, that less than 1% of the population is a member of a party, while around a third ‘just vote’, and this is without thinking about those aged under 18.

As nugatory as the utterance of ‘participation crisis’ may seem in a 21st century democracy, we are a country in desperate need of an example to look up to, and with Scotland we’ve found it. Shine your fiery beacon proudly.

It used to look a lot more positive for 16-to-17 year olds’ hopes of having a say in our membership of the EU. Back in 2014, Ed Miliband announced that should Labour win the 2015 general election, they would pass a law stating that the voting age, both in referenda and general elections, would be lowered to 16. It is also in both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats manifestos to lower the voting age to 16.

You might ask, why? What reasoning is there for lowering the voting age to 16? For starters, it would make sense to do so in the interest of political participation. Democracy relies on people to make decisions when offered the chance to do so through exercises in direct democracy. How can we call ourselves democratic in any sense if so few people engage with this exercise? In our most recent nationwide referendum, on whether to implement the AV system in 2011, we saw a turnout of roughly 42%. Referenda can lead to important constitutional change, making participation essential for strong and mandated action to occur. The inclusion of 16-17 year olds would surely help to increase this participation. Numerically, if there are more people in the electorate, it’s likely to boost the quantity of participants. 75% of 16-17 year olds voted in the Scottish Independence referendum, in comparison to 54% of 18-24s and 72% of 25-34s, proving that young people are not so politically apathetic after all.

Second, and most essentially, this issue will have a bigger impact on under-18s than anybody else. The millions of lost, confused adolescents writing their futures in black biro pen on hot summer days will have the course of their fate strongly and swiftly shifted by the outcome of this referendum. It affects our time ahead in both education and employment. Everything we are currently slogging our entire guts for – taking years abroad on university courses, getting into university in the first place, working in arts and culture and business, or pretty much any sector – can change within hours as a result of a vote we aren’t included in.

The obvious argument against this is that Generation Z are uneducated about constitutional matters. A prime example can be found in the opening paragraph above and it’s understandable why there is an assumption that 16-17 year olds don’t know enough about politics.

But is it really any wonder that the stereotype of teenagers is one of disinterested and disengaged laziness when the very system built for us fails on a daily basis to educate, to enhance personal development and to equip us with the means to make rational decisions in life?

We’re tirelessly blamed and discredited for being ‘uneducated’ about such matters, but hardly anybody has stopped to think that our education is derived from those same critics, the people in power. If we were educated on political issues, I’m certain that we’d devour it and use it accordingly.

I’ll be transparent with you. I’m a member of the Young Green Party, I study AS Government and Politics and I obviously support the notion that 16-17 year olds should be entitled a vote in the EU referendum, and in future referenda.

For a group of people who have been given adult rights – including, but not limited to, marriage, joining the military and consensual sex – it seems absurd to be denied the right to vote on the matters that affect our futures. What are politicians so scared of when we have the brilliant example of Scotland shining the light on how to handle our participation crisis? Teenagers may be scary, but having no say in your own future is petrifying.

Sara Louise Tonge

Sara Louise Tonge