From Irish Times (online): http://www.irishtimes.com/student-hub/brexit-a-stark-warning-for-young-people-1.2721700
Impact of UK Brexit vote shows importance of exercising the right to vote, writes TCD student Martin O’Donnell.
On Thursday 23rd June, the people of the UK voted in an in-out referendum on EU membership and the decision they made to leave the EU will change Britain’s status in the world for years to come.
Brexiters may argue that leaving the EU will result in greater British sovereignty and allow Britain to define itself on the world stage but they will potentially lose important benefits that come with EU membership.
Membership of the EU entitles citizens to freely travel and work in all the member states, to sell the produce and services in member states and EU laws offer many protections to individuals.
The loss of these benefits will have the greatest impact on younger generations. Open borders for travel allow for the accumulation of experience for example on Erasmus or “Co-Op” while free trade allows for economies to grow and prosper into the future.
Young people in the UK are now faced with uncertainty as a newly elected Theresa May firstly attempts to define her preferred exit strategy and then to negotiate with EU officials who are likely to be hostile to her in order to dissuade other countries from considering leaving the union.
Youth voters should have been aware of the grave implications of leaving the EU for their generation and it appears as though they did. Exit polling following the result confirmed as much with approximately 75 per cent of those surveyed between 18 and 24 voting to remain in various exit polls.
The more worrying finding, however, is the turnout level – it was estimated that turnout in this group was approximately 30-35 per cent, compared to as high as 80 per cent in over 55s.
This finding is extremely worrying. It shows that in spite of the implications of the decision for their future, young people did not turn out to vote. Perhaps what should be more worrying is that this is not an isolated incident.
Young people in general do not turn up in great numbers when elections come around. In the UK, voter turnout among those aged between 18 and 24 is 36 per cent lower than those aged between 25 and 50 in elections while in Ireland it is 18 per cent lower according to correlated data from the OECD.
The Brexit referendum was a once in a generation decision and the impact of the decision in front of the electorate was binary (at least on the ballot paper), but this will not always be the case.
General and local elections occur regularly but can seem trivial at times as politicians kiss babies and give rehearsed speeches. It can be hard to see what the actual point of these elections actually is. The impact, however, is very real as these politicians make economic and social decisions that can impact us immeasurably.
If the impact of elections is great, why do young people not vote consistently? A myriad of reasons have been offered including youth apathy with the political system, a lack of understanding of the issues and a feeling that nobody represents their views.
These reasons, real or not, should now be cast aside in the aftermath of the Brexit vote – youth voters clearly cannot afford to be apathetic. They must understand the issues and candidates put in front of them.
Many sources such as WhichCandidate and SmartVote exist to help people find candidates who most align with their views. Election decisions, as with all life decisions, invariably comes down to choosing the most palatable option.
It’s rare that we are presented with our absolute ideological and personal match in a politician or political choice and unfortunately we must compromise.
Brexit may end up being the greatest tragedy to hit my generation in the UK. It is imperative that we learn from their mistake in Ireland.
There is a clear lesson for young people now and in the future from the vote – we must vote when we are young in spite of the flaws present in the system as failure to do so can lead to even worse outcomes for us going forward.
Irish youth should be keenly aware of this with Presidential elections in 2018, a referendum likely on the repeal of the Eight Amendment in the near future and possibly a general election within the next eighteen months (given the current political climate).