In less than a month now, we will know where our future lies. After years of debates, months since the referendum was first announced, on the morning of June 24 we will wake up to the result of one the most important decisions most of us will have ever collectively made – and for my part, I will do my best to make sure that we stay in the European Union.
In a referendum that will have such an important effect on the rest of our lives, my main worry is that young people won’t have their say. In the last general election, only 43 per cent of people aged 18-24 voted, compared to 78 per cent of over 65s. Given that a recent BBC poll average found that 72 per cent of 18-24 year olds are in favour of staying in Europe, while only 42 per cent of over 65s want to stay, this is a crucial margin. In effect, our inactivity, or failure to register to vote before June 7 (Tuesday of 7th week), could mean the difference between whether Britain stays in, or leaves the European Union.
Here in Oxford, the problem is even more pronounced. Cherwell‘s survey last term found that 80 per cent of a large sample of Oxford students wanted to stay in Europe. Yet issues of registration either at home or at the University mean that there is a real danger of Oxford students in particular missing out on having their say. Even if I didn’t think that Oxford students would vote overwhelmingly to keep Britain in the European Union, I would be upset that so many of us might miss out on our opportunity to decide our future.
When older generations’ higher turnouts constantly disincentivise British political parties from taking a real interest in young peoples’ issues, this referendum is an opportunity to set the record straight. Regardless of the result of the referendum, if a higher proportion of young people vote our opinions will be converted into real political power. A strong youth ‘Yes’ vote will demonstrate how far this nation’s future leaders are committed to creating a much more forward looking European Union.
Of everyone, it’s us young people that will be most affected by the results of this referendum. Whereas the decision will affect only part of our parents’ lives, we will be the ones who may have to spend the whole of our working lives living with the consequences of a ‘No’ vote. Personally, I don’t think that we need to stress the negative aspects of leaving Europe. At the same time, however, I am aware that the huge damage felt by the breakdown of investment, research funding and access to export markets that may come from leaving the European Union would have the biggest long term effects on us. Even here at Oxford University, Moody’s found only a couple of weeks ago that our position as net beneficiaries from European research funding would be jeopardised by a vote to leave Europe. As much as I feel that it’s unnecessary to labour this point, it seems so obvious to me that we Oxford students would be amongst some of the worst hit by Britain’s potential withdrawal from the European Union.
More importantly, however, young people need to vote to keep Britain in the European Union because it offers so much for us. Moves towards European unity have ensured a record period of peace and prosperity in Western Europe that hasn’t been trumped since the end of the Pax Romana. As European citizens, we young people in particular have the benefits of freedom of movement, freedom of trade, and soon freedom from those petty data roaming charges you get when you go abroad. Our membership of the Union facilitates cooperation between nations so that issues that affect young people can be dealt with on a continental scale. Never mind the huge number of students that benefit from Erasmus programmes – membership of the European Union means that young people’s voices are heard on a continental scale. Europe offers so much for people our age, it would be a shame to let older generations drag us out.
Last week, Oxford Students For Europe (OSFE) were fortunate enough to co-host Nick Clegg on his way around the country campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union. Sat in the auditorium for what was admittedly a relatively brief talk, I was struck most by the urgency with which he spoke. According to a YouGov poll from May 17, the vote to stay in the European Union remains only four per cent ahead of those willing to leave. At present, any slight falter in the remain vote could tip the balance in the Brexiters’ favour. Significantly, a slight change in the opinions of those people that remain unsure about the European Union could spell disaster for our prospects as young people that are part of a hugely productive European system. For a man like Nick Clegg, who has staked his entire career on the mutual benefits of our membership of the Union, this has become a serious call to action. For us members of Oxford University this should also be a wake-up call.
By joining Oxford Students For Europe through our Facebook page, as well as by following us on twitter @osfeurope, we can put you in touch with our campaign to mobilise Oxford
students to vote to stay in the Europe Union. In this way, in the final few weeks before the
referendum, you too can join us in making a real difference for your future.