Young People Aren't Just Apathetic About the EU Ref - We Don't Like the Arguments

13/06/2016 17:22 | Updated 14 June 2016

young voter

Some people will tell you that young people are apathetic because we don't believe that politicians represent our interests. Others will tell you that there aren't politicians that represent young people's interests because we don't vote. Both statements are true - it's a cyclical problem replicated around the globe.

Even our remote political class recognise this, which is why in the run up to the EU referendum they've invaded our dating apps and subjected us to horrendously patronising adverts. Even when young people are treated with enough respect to be given a platform, such as last week's BBC debate, it's still dominated by politicians in their 50s squabbling about how to make Britain 'great' again.

The lack of young voices in mainstream politics is disappointing yet unsurprising. However, I would argue that there's a less acknowledged reason for our lack of engagement with the EU referendum: political outlook.

Though there are obvious exceptions, it's generally accepted that older generations lean right and younger people are more progressive in their attitudes. The fact that only one of these two groups actively vote causes a deficit.

A plurality of voices is essential in a functioning democracy: that means ideology as well as age, gender and race. Is it really a surprise that many young people have no interest in the EU referendum when its main combatants represent different strands of the Conservative right?

I realise that as a Glasgow-based lefty I'm probably a stereotype, but being relentlessly exposed to Nigel Farage and Boris 'de Pfeffel' Johnson whining about 'the establishment' is a bit much to swallow. I'm not exaggerating either: one study shows that the Tories account for over 40% of EU referendum coverage while parties like SNP and the Greens have less than 0.5% between them.

What's more, the government's position was supposedly dependent on how successful David Cameron's renegotiation was. A 'good deal for Britain' apparently includes restrictions on freedom of movement and more powers to curb immigration. Meanwhile, Vote Leave's proposal is to create an 'Australian-style points based immigration system'
If those are the two arguments then don't expect our generation to sign up for either camp with much enthusiasm. The government's own analysis of young people's social attitudes shows that we're quite pro-immigration; neither the In or Out Campaigns reflect our views.

This particularly applies to those of us living in Scotland. Having grown up in the West Highlands I'm acutely aware that emigration is a far bigger problem here than immigration. We have an ageing population, many of our industries rely heavily on migrant workers and students from the EU are highly sought after.

Scaremongering about foreigners doesn't appeal to our generation because we're too aware of the benefits. I understand that many people worry about immigration because they believe it puts on jobs and public services (although I'd personally attribute that to austerity and lack of investment). But my real issue is with the disgraceful scare stories about immigrants peddled by the Leave campaign.

Britain Stronger in Europe is no better, using the same fear-laden economic arguments that were wheeled out by Better Together during the Scottish referendum. Nothing about the campaign feels geared towards young people: it's chaired by Lord Rose, comprised of mostly middle aged men in suits and focuses almost exclusively on the business case for staying in Europe.

Present a vision of hope and you'll find that young people take more interest. Whatever your views on Scottish independence are, it's hard to deny that the progressive arguments employed by the Yes campaign enthused tens of thousands of young voters.

According to YouGov the turnout for 16-24 year olds was 68%, partly because they felt like they had an opportunity to control their own futures. I'd be unsurprised if the EU ref turnout hit 50%. There isn't the same sense of optimism with the EU referendum. Young people aren't just uninterested; there's nobody we can believe in.

Don't get me wrong: I sincerely hope that as many young people vote as possible on June 23. Workers' rights, free movement and study abroad schemes are incredibly relevant topics for young people. The fact that these issues have fallen down the list below 'sovereignty' and EU migration means I worry that the motivation just isn't there.

I'm probably going to vote to remain but not with much vigour. The EU reform that I want to see is entirely different to the government's own reform agenda, so in many ways I feel damned if I do or don't. The EU referendum might be a binary choice but the campaigns are two sides of the same coin. Young people deserve better.

HuffPost UK Young Voices is running a month-long focus on the EU Referendum, examining what is at stake for Britain's young people on 23 June and why it's imperative you register to vote and have your say. If you want to have your say and blog on our platform around this topic, email Register to vote here.