The UK has voted to leave the European Union and the ramifications of that historic decision will be felt for years to come. The immediate aftermath has already seen the resignation of a Prime Minster, a coup against the leader of the opposition that has pushed Labour into further turmoil, and the Liberal Democrats making it their position to overturn the result of the referendum. It has been a weekend of the long knives caused by stubby pencils. This is not to mention a change in the likelihood of another Scottish independence referendum from likely to almost certain. However, before we think about what will happen, it's necessary to look back and consider what has just occurred.
In demographic terms, some clear trends emerged during the referendum and by far the most interesting is to do with age. Young people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. The vote saw 70 per cent of those aged 18-24 and 56 per cent of voters aged 25-49 voting to remain. Meanwhile, the 50-65 and 65+ age groups voted to leave by a significant, and ultimately sufficient, margin. There was a split along generational lines, with the young voting to remain and the old backing a Brexit. We had a democratic vote and the desires of the older generations won out in a fair contest.
Not that you could tell that from the reactions of a lot of younger people and Millennials. There has been an angry backlash aimed at the older generations who stand accused of having maliciously "screwed over" younger people by having the cheek to think differently from them. From the anger expressed, some of which bordered on ageist bigotry and was tinged with snobbery and elitism, it would be reasonable to conclude that we had a passionate, engaged, and staunchly pro-EU cohort of under 50s in the UK.
If this is correct - one question remains...
Where the hell were they on June 23rd 2016?
Because a lot of them were certainly not voting! According to turnout figures, less than 40 per cent of young people aged 18-24 voted and only just over half of 25-34 year olds turned-out. In contrast, the older generations were far more likely to go to the polling stations therefore their views carried more weight. Older folks showed up and young people didn't so there are many in the latter age bracket that have no-one to blame but themselves for not getting the result they wanted. As trite a cliché as it may be, they did not vote so they have no justification for complaining that the vote didn't go their way. Older people did not betray the young, they voted for their own interests and with their own consciences. The young "screwed over" themselves by not voting.
More worrying still is the social media echo chamber of which this civic slovenliness is a product.
Perhaps it was being in online spaces, surrounded by other remain supporting young people, that led those under 30 to conclude that their vote was not essential. This is exclusively their fault; the UK does good work to encourage voter participation so we have to blame individual negligence. When the vote did not go their way, some Millennials resorted to their worst habits, blaming the old and making it all about themselves - hence the 'old people screwed us' and 'this is about our future' lines of bullying and self-absorbed rhetoric.
The outpouring of pseudo-grief that happened among many young people on social media, and some lacklustre real-life protests, has demonstrated what may be the biggest problem of the generation to which I belong - we seem to be happier pontificating than participating. The selfish, narcissistic, bullying, and snobby rhetoric that has dominated much of Generation Y's reaction to the Brexit vote carries all the hallmarks of our generational disease - our 'It's all about us' mentality. It has an aggressive attitude towards anyone old, as well as a nauseatingly right-on motif tinged with intolerance and it recoils in horror at the notion that someone might have a differing view. The post-match hysterics were embarrassing and the hypocrisy of it coming from a generation of people who barely voted makes it even worse.
Perhaps there will be an eventual upside. In the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 (which future history textbooks will presumably call 'The First Referendum on Scottish Independence') a significant number, but not a majority, of young people did not get the Yes vote they wanted. Many of those people have since become very engaged and highly-politically active as a result of not getting their own way for the first time.
Millennials across the UK might have had a similar wake-up call here. Being taken out of the EU by what other people think, in defiance of the special snowflake syndrome that is so prominent among Millennials, might persuade them to be more active in the future. This means really active rather than simply posting, tweeting, retweeting, and sharing their opinions; it means going to the ballot box and being part of the political process. Perhaps losing this one will teach our younger generation that 'likes' do not equal votes and that no amount of memes can get you the policy that you want. Maybe, it could be a harsh lesson for a generation that is desperately in need of one.
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