Young voters and particularly university students are among the most likely supporters of Britain's ongoing membership in the EU. Recent studies have shown that the constituencies with the highest degree of support for the EU are the ones exhibiting the highest levels of education, centered around great universities such as University of Aberdeen in Scotland and the University of Cambridge in England, whilst many of the most Eurosceptic constituencies are in areas whose population has lower skills and competencies. A caring society where solidarity is more than an empty word cannot afford economically politically or more to simply leave behind those who have been hurt by technological progress and globalization trends that have profoundly transformed our economy, our work environments, and the way we communicate and interact. At the same time we must also recognize the particularly important voice we must give to young people who will have to live for the longest time with the consequences of decisions we make today.
It is from this perspective that the House of Lords in London recently passed a draft bill granting the right to vote in the Brexit referendum to 16 to 18-year-olds in the same way that this had been done in the Scottish independence referendum. The bill was voted down in the House of Commons primarily because of the Eurosceptic Tories’ opposition, since it seemed quite clear that most of the voters would be so enfranchised would opt for staying in the EU. We are therefore in the untenable situation where young people can marry at the age of 16 and become parents, or join the army and die for their country, but are not entitled to a voice and a vote in a matter of national importance that in many ways will determine their future for decades to come. This vote of no confidence of our establishment London élites in today's young people and tomorrow’s leaders is a severe indictment of their lack of trust and respect for basic democratic processes and for an expansion of the franchise to our youngest citizens in universities and colleges.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has taken an unambiguous position in favor of British membership in the EU and is organizing various events across Britain to familiarize its members with the issues being debated and to ensure that they will turn up in large numbers on June 23, 2016 vote to ‘stay in’ the EU. There are of course young people and university students who have been mobilized in favor of the ‘leave’ option and are campaigning accordingly, but they represent a much smaller percentage of the youth vote supporting the ‘stay in’ the EU option, who and again tend to live in regions with lower levels of skills and education.
One of the key observations I have made in the initial stages of Stronger United’s 2016 UK Marchathon when corresponding with university student representatives or talking directly to university students themselves is that a considerable number of them, although in favor of the UK’s continuing membership in the EU, are not actually aware of the larger issues involved and what is truly at stake in the Brexit referendum. This speaks to the urgent need for a truly grassroots campaign of information, debates, and discussions across Britain and its main colleges and universities to stimulate dynamism, energy, and enthusiasm among our youngest voters and to galvanize them in organizing and participating massively in the upcoming Brexit referendum.
The only way we will achieve an unprecedented high turnout level on June 23, 2016 as well as an overwhelming vote in favor of the ‘stay in’ the EU option that would clearly show such a result cannot be interpreted as an automatic endorsement for David Cameron's renegotiated UK membership terms in the EU, is to persuade young voters to actively participate in this process by organizing their communities, communicating with their families and friends, and driving out the vote on polling day. Only so can we ensure that most of us will vote together for our country to ‘stay in’ the EU. In fact, this is Stronger United's critical objective and most of its Marchathon events are organized around Britain's key colleges and universities, as we attempt to contribute to this critical process of involving our young voters in making a critical decision that will significantly affect their future opportunities, careers, and lives for decades to come.