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Woken up yet? It’s been exactly one week since the Brexit votes were cast, and the nation still seems to be either in unperturbed shock or rampant celebration. David Cameron has resigned from his post, as have half the Labour Party, and a number of Conservative MP’s have within the last two days announced their bid for the leadership, arguing over the best way to tear a divided nation from Europe.
‘Divided’ is the salient word here. The one thing the referendum revealed more than anything was just how fragmented the electorate is. These divisions lie not just between different parts of the Union but between different age groups as well.
As the BBC’s chart shows, 73% of the voters aged between 18-24 were in favour of Remain, with support dropping significantly the older voters are. Moreover, areas in favour of Remain had a far larger immigrant population than those voting Leave. From these statistics we can glean that Gen Y have a much more internationalist view than their older counterparts, and are less concerned about immigration and much more about their own ability to live and work abroad freely.
Looking at some of our own data, this certainly correlates. Of the thousands of people using our services to legalise their documents for use in other countries, 60% are between the ages of 18 and 34. This makes sense. Millennials have grown up within the climate of radical internationalisation. The EU, in its current form, has been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember, and they appreciate the ability it gives them to live within any of its member countries at any time or to holiday abroad without worrying about visas. But there’s something far more significant about their support for Remain.
The EU represents a culture of collaboration and openness between people, regardless of their backgrounds or any differences they may have. Millennials looking at the Leave camp see the exact opposite of these values, where immigration is a word spat out with enmity, where hard-nosed lies told by men in suits become part of the national conversation and lead to rises in racist incidents across the country. For them, the EU is a bastion of social equality, human rights, and concern for the environment, and the decision to Leave seems overtly at odds with their beliefs.
It would be little surprise then if the result furthers their disengagement with politics. “They don’t listen to us anyway” goes the familiar refrain, “so why should we bother?” Yet the politics of today are the politics of change. The same has been said by millions of working class voters across the UK as they’ve had the squeeze of austerity thrown upon them over the last 8 years, through no fault of their own. Given the chance to vote on real change (whether you think that positive or negative), they decided to ignore the opinions of the status quo, who warned them of the dangers if they defied them. 62% of voters with no formal qualifications voted Leave. They took their chance and stuck it to the man.
Apathy does not bring change. If only younger voters had rallied with such vigour before the referendum, perhaps they could have affected the result. Voter turnout was pegged at 36% for those aged 18-24. Yet there is hope. A petition for a second referendum has reached over 4,000,000 signatures thus far, forcing parliament to at least put it on the agenda. The danger is that young people choose to disengage even more at a time their rights are being impinged upon the most. Now is the time to make sure their voices are heard.
The petition won’t do any good of course. The referendum isn’t legally binding but the democratic contract between us and our elected officials means that the result can’t be ignored. 52% of the UK voted out. So we head to the gates, and wonder what bittersweet horrors lie ahead.