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Thursday, September 29, 2011
16-year-old voters have their say in Manx general election - a nudge for reformers in the UK
Bright lights, cheerful place, and plenty of young voters to help keep it that way. Douglas, capital of the Isle of Man. Photograph: Don McPhee/Guardian
I hope you agree that the Isle of Man is in the north of the British Isles; apologies if not. My emeritus Manchester Guardian colleague Mike Morris certainly used to think so. He was on the steam packet at the slightest excuse.
He'd certainly have been there today, to watch some 60,000 people cast their votes in the Manx general election, which isn't such a parochial sideshow as some of us mainlanders might think.
Tarantara! It is the pioneer in Europe for allowing 16-year-olds to vote – a lead set in 2006 and subsequently followed by Austria and some local polls In Germany. Meltdown? The Northerner robustly thinks not. Only good can come from combining the ideals and enthusiasm of youth with the wisdom of those of us blessed with maturer years.
I am a big supporter of votes at 16. The state can ask a 16 year old to fight and die for this country, why not vote too?
On the island the reform has played its part in giving the Manx their largest electorate ever, more than 8000 up on the 52,000 who registered for the last poll in 3006. The number of 16 and 17-year-olds on the list has risen from 724 to 1,297.
The Isle of Man is an interestingly successful example of micro power and responsibility in our global age. Officially a self-governing dependency of the British Crown, it is not part of the UK nor the EUalthough the former looks after its defence and foreign affairs and it has a cosy protocol with Brussels.
The 24 members of the celebrated House of Keys run almost everything from policing to health services. Time was when the numer of crusty retirees clung on to devices such as birching. The suffrage is a much better way to involve potential hoodies and hoodlums in civic life.
There are 64 candidates vying for a place and the Lilliput size of the place means that direct democracy is practicable. Instead of the mainland diet of a limited number of political celebrities banging on all the time in the media, Manx radio has given a standard five minutes on air to every single candidate.
YouTube also has videos of the hustings, as the various groups such as the Liberal Vannin party and politely slug it out. The poll is today and the process culminates on 4 October when the Tynwald - the Keys plus the indirectly chosen legislative council - will pick a new chief minister to replace the veteran Tony Brown, who is planning a rest from Manx politics after 35 years' involvement.