With the realisation that the 18-34 vote could swing the UK’s June 23 referendum on membership of the EU, there have been a lot of ham-handed attempts to recruit young voters to either side. Remain unveiled the widely mocked #Votein campaign and tried to harness the pure adrenaline of Ed Miliband to persuade young voters to vote In. For their part, the Leave campaign invoked the spectre of housing to get younger voters to look their way (despite criticising Remain’s use of scare tactics).
Though I can’t vote in the referendum, I am in the target age bracket for these messages, and I’m amazed at how ineffective and misguided they are. So rather than try to persuade one way or another, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on how I would make my decision were I headed to the voting booth.
Think about how it affects everyone
Invoking ‘the easyJet generation’ and how free movement and other aspects of membership benefit young people in particular for me misses the point. While there is always an element of self-interest in voting, such a momentous decision demands thinking about everyone in society. The class split in voting intentions is concerning, and before deciding I would ask myself: does what benefits me benefit everyone?
Ask who will deliver afterwards
Both sides have made bold claims about how their choice would spur a brighter future for Britain. But can they deliver? There are contradictions in both camps’ plans, David Cameron’s ridiculous pledge on immigration numbers being the primary one for Remain, while the lack of a coherent vision for the UK outside the EU plagues Leave. Cameron would in all probability have to resign if Remain lost, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean Boris nabs Number 10 immediately, it’s safe to assume that the leaders in the Leave camp would bear a good deal of responsibility for taking the plans (such as they are) forward. So who is more trustworthy, and who is more capable of delivering?
But still follow the narratives
As with the Scottish referendum, a relentless focus on economic issues might win the day, but it won’t resolve the underlying tensions and debates. It’s not just about whether you will be a few hundred pounds better or worse off – it’s about the type of country you want to live in. And while the details coming from the campaigns have sometimes been sketchy, there are clear positive narratives for both sides – of a Britain remaining committed to its partners and its part in a liberal world order while safeguarding its economy, or of an island nation free from the shackles of a moribund economic bloc now free to trade with the world and be more dynamic. Which one sounds better?
Ignore authority – to a point
Endorsements are a mainstay of political campaigns, but ‘appeal to authority’ remains one of the more straightforward of logical fallacies. Of course, as anti-establishment feeling takes hold across the developed world, the value of endorsements and their signalling value is receding – they certainly have not helped in this year’s US presidential contest. But the danger here is that real expertise and specialist knowledge gets lumped in with the ‘establishment’, and gets dismissed alongside. That the ‘establishment’ broadly supports Remain should not count for or against it – but might there be some people who really know what they’re talking about in the mix?
Regardless – vote!
While the ridiculous #Votein campaign was trying to persuade young voters to back in, a major goal was to get them to vote at all. Polls show a strong preference for Remain among 18-34 year olds but as usual, they are less likely than other groups to vote in the first place. As long as this trend continues, young voters are likely to get more nonsensical attempts at hipness in place of a real understanding of their concerns from elected leaders. And younger citizens will have to deal with the consequences of the vote for a long time. I certainly would not give up my vote – and neither should anyone else.