I, like many, have multiple areas of contention with the upcoming EU referendum. On the 23rd June, every member of the electorate has the right to cast a vote either in favour of remaining in the EU or in favour of leaving altogether. Understandably, my generation, and generations to come have the most to lose.
I could have written a concise and effective appeal to turn out and vote on the 23rd regardless of your opinion on the matter, but I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to provide a simple argument as to why the general public, and my generation in particular should vote to stay as a member of the European Union.
My argument is predicated upon four main principles. Firstly, I don’t believe that a referendum is the correct way to solve the EU dilemma. Secondly, when in doubt, stick with the status quo. Now is not the time to potentially sever all ties with the EU. If we vote to leave, the ball is in their court, not ours. Thirdly, contemporary political participation in my age group is painfully, stupidly and dangerously low. The final and most important principle, is that I wholeheartedly believe that remaining within the European Union is the best choice for us as a nation, for which I will present my reasons for.
Last week, David Mitchell wrote a column about the EU referendum and I agree with him. As I stated above, I do not believe that a referendum is the correct way to tackle our less-than-perfect relationship with the EU. Controversial or not, this is not a matter for the general public to decide. It’s too confusing, convoluted and difficult to pick apart and decipher. I’ve studied politics for three years (a very short amount of time, all things considered) and there are areas of debate within this referendum that I am unsure about. There will be seasoned politicians on the fence, surrounded by highly qualified political advisors trying to steer them one way, or the other. If experienced and ‘in the know’ professionals don’t know, how can the general public be expected to make an informed decision?
There are so many things to consider here. Firstly, the media often runs biased and policy-light arguments for and against staying. For example, part of the mass media and leave camp has at times, ran a campaign based on unacceptable and plain racist islamophobia and unfounded, contradictory anti-immigration rhetoric, which I will address in my next piece.
The argument for leaving the EU should be contingent upon the inefficient and undemocratic nature of the EU. The former approach is effective and sexy, the latter is the fair and honest argument. Our inability, as a society, to utilise the right and honourable campaign is partly why there is such harmful disassociation with politics. The divisive way in which the media operates is a fundamental reason why the electorate shouldn’t decide on issues of this magnitude. The information we’re provided with is often misinformation, propaganda or not relevant.
Furthermore, the debate has been surrounded by forecasts and predictions of future life in or out of the EU, much of which is merely speculation and not based in substantive evidence. Educating the public on the salient issues and enabling people to make a balanced and informed decision is partly the media’s responsibility.
The point here, is that the EU is such a huge political issue, with such importance, that we should not be expected to be in a position to decide, one way or the other. In the words of Richard Dawkins “This is a complicated matter of economics, politics, history, and we live in a representative democracy not a plebiscite democracy.” This leads me on to my next point, we elect MPs to make the difficult decisions for us. On a lesser issue, sure, that’s fine, go ahead, have a referendum. But a referendum on our membership to the European Union, are you insane?
As David Mitchell wrote last week, “Cameron’s policy-avoidance policy was deftly done, mind you. It plays well, rhetorically – telling people they’ll get to decide, flattering the public’s estimation of its collective wisdom.” Admittedly, and as pointed out by my flatmate, there will be people who voted Conservative because they offered an EU referendum. However, the fact of the matter is, is that they should not have offered one in the first place. It was reckless, irresponsible and ill-conceived.
In addition to this, the genius of the referendum move is that it places the accountability on the shoulders of the general public. Whichever way we vote, if five, ten or twenty years down the line it appears to be the wrong decision, then we only have ourselves to blame. I don’t believe that for a second, but that’s how some will try to frame it. When push comes to shove, we have a Prime Minister who delegates to the general public on issues of paramount importance. That isn’t leading. That’s pandering.
My second main point is that if you are undecided, you shouldn’t take an unnecessary gamble. Even people who have a firm grasp of the political issues at play in this referendum might not know which way to vote. For many people, as they learn more and more about different political issues, all that happens is that they transition from uninformed to undecided. If you do not know which way to vote, stick to the status quo. There is an inherent advantage for the status quo option in referendums and when the stakes are this high, why risk it?
There will be other opportunities for people to voice their concerns on the EU. If there is a tide of consent to leave the EU, it will happen sooner or later. But for now, there is not, which is why voting to remain is the intelligent thing to do.
I recently saw someone post on Facebook that we “shouldn’t risk remaining in the EU as nothing will change, but a vote to leave will get their attention.” This is wrong. Very wrong. If we vote to leave, we lose much of the political capital we currently hold as a nation. You better believe that the EU is stronger and more powerful than us and once out, we play by their rules even more than we do now. For this reason, we need to strive to restructure the EU as a member. After all, decisions are made by the people in the room, so why would you leave the room?
Moving forward, political engagement amongst young people has always been an issue. Young people don’t vote, and that isn’t news to anybody. This routinely comes back to bite us. Maybe, just maybe, if we spent a little more time voting, and a little less time complaining about a government that has continually screwed us over, they wouldn’t be in a position to screw us over in the first place. Ever wondered why the Conservatives suit the wants and needs of older people? It’s because they vote, and when they do vote, they vote for them. This pressing issue is even more important in a straight up-or-down-vote referendum. This recent poll below says it all. If we want to remain in the EU, we’re going to have to vote. The maths is simple. If we drive up youth turnout, we massively increase the amount of remain votes.
Now comes the controversial bit. As young people, we have more to lose than old people (of whom 65%, or there abouts, want to leave the EU). Fair or not, young people have to live for a long time with the decision that we as a nation will make on June 23rd, whilst older people do not. It may seem cut-throat, and there is no graceful way of saying it, but I’m sure you get my point.
I’m not for a second suggesting that old people don’t have a right to vote or that they shouldn’t vote, because that is their prerogative and their democratic right. What I am explicitly stating, is this:
The majority of the older population will probably vote and the majority of those who vote, will probably vote to leave the EU. Therefore, if we want to have our pro-EU voices heard, we absolutely, completely, totally, have to increase turnout in the 18-29 age group, and to a lesser extend, the 30-39 age group too. If we don’t, we might just lose and end up leaving the EU.
Lastly, and of paramount importance is that I fully believe that voting to remain is the best choice for us as a nation. As I stated earlier, the EU debate has been surrounded by forecasts and predictions as to what life will be like in or out of the EU. Much is unknown, but if 88% of economists in a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI say that staying in the EU is a better economic option over the next five years, with a further 72% saying that leaving the EU will have a negative economic impact in the next 10-20 years, then I’m sticking with those guys.
Furthermore, the EU membership fees argument has already been proven to be nothing more than cosmetic politics, aimed at members of the public who aren’t paying close enough attention. The anti-immigration argument for leaving has no substance and merely pays lip service to the unacceptable xenophobic and jingoistic undertones in British society. If your reason for leaving is because you think that we need to “regain control of our borders and quell the spread of Islam”, or if they want to keep out hard-working migrants who just want a better life for their family, or if you don’t think we should be doing more to help refugees, then I’ll address you in my next post.
There are of course, perfectly good arguments for leaving the EU, such as being able to negotiate our own trade agreements, the fact that the EU has admittedly, over-stepped its original remit, the undemocratic nature of the EU or the fact that there is too much EU waste and inefficiency. These are all good reasons for dissatisfaction with the EU, I just personally believe we will be better able to deal with these issues from within the EU framework. There are many people who want to leave for economic reasons who I have nothing but respect for. We just fall on different sides of the line. If you haven’t already noticed, it’s the anti-immigration argument that I have a problem with.
Ultimately, the EU referendum has to be handled with extreme care and attention. It calls for common-sense decision-making from the electorate. There are so many variables and unknowns that it is critical not to vote impulsively. As appealing as direct democracy sounds, it can be potentially devastating if we vote the wrong way.
Besides the fact that I don’t agree with a referendum in the first place, it is essential to drive up youth turnout in order to provide us with the best opportunity to remain in the EU.
Like it or not, the EU is too big of an issue to vote leave on a whim. If we vote to stay, we get to restructure the EU from the inside, the ball is in our hands as it were. If we leave, we don’t just drop the ball, we pass it to the other team. There may come a time when our best option is to leave the EU, but now is not that time.
For now, we are stronger together, isolation will do us no favours. In the words of Matt Damon: “Brexit, for God’s sakes. That insane idea that the best path for Britain is to cut loose from Europe and drift out to sea.”