To vote or not to vote: How teenagers view the EU referendum


During a week's work experience at CommonSpace, 14-year-old Nathan Graham from Bathgate Academy took a look at some of the issues young people are considering when it comes to the EU referendum

Who is allowed to vote?

Anyone aged 18 or over on 23 June 2016, who has registered before 7 June and is a British or Irish citizen living in the UK, is able to vote in this referendum. There has been some anger than younger people aged 16 and 17 can’t vote, as many feel they have become more engaged in politics recently and especially since they understand that this will affect their lives tremendously.

Are young people interested in the EU referendum?

There's a risk that young people will be put off the EU referendum because they aren’t allowed to vote. This will be disappointing for young people who have been allowed to vote in all the elections from the age of 16 in Scotland since the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. 

Rory Watson, 16, says: "The refusal of allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in this referendum highlights really how out of touch the government is." 

Rory Watson

According to organisers, a record of 3.6 million turned out to vote in the Scottish independence referendum, more than 100,000 of that total were 16 to 17 year olds who had registered to vote. During indyref, it’s estimated that 75 per cent of 16 to 17 year olds voted, compared to 54 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds and 72 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds, according to an ICM survey. 

Getting down with the kids

Some of the EU referendum campaigning has targeted young people specifically, although it hasn't necessarily been received well.

As the A Thousand Flowers blog explains: "First in the ring was 'Britain Stronger In Europe', who produced a 'video', presumably intended to appeal to that section of society who can’t figure out where the 'g' is on their smartphone keypad."

Meanwhile, Leave.EU (a political campaign website) declared that it will host a gig, targeted at young people to get them to vote for leaving the EU, but it all backfired on the campaign when a host of the acts booked, like 5ive, East 17 and Alesha Dixon all pulled out when they realised what the event was for.

What are some of the issues young people care about?

Some people are worried that if they leave, it will have a knock-on effect on things like further education, the 'Erasmus' student exchange programme and, furthermore, the freedom of movement across the EU (which has resulted in thousands of students going abroad to study thanks to cheaper tuition), but they also worry about things like workers and humans rights. 

There have been many great reasons for young people to stay in the EU, and some people feel there aren't enough reasons to leave, according to Rory Watson. But the biggest thing, he says, is that they want the scaremongering to stop from both sides as that progresses nothing. 

"What doesn’t help is the relentless scaremongering from both sides of the campaign," says Watson. "It doesn’t go down well – if there is a positive case for the EU, it must be made quickly. Family holiday price rises, mortgages going up, cutting the NHS etc. doesn’t add anything, it only further disenfranchises people."

Meanwhile, Ross Gray, 18, feels that "the scapegoating of migrants for the strains on public services is a fallacy and founded in correlations not founded in reality". 

"Where the failure lies is with the chronic underinvestment of such surplus back into our services," he adds, "which subsequently creak and struggle to the chorus of scaremongering, blaming migrants for systemic problems their contributions could have alleviated."

The best places to find out more about the EU

To start off you should have a look at the EU’s own website, Europa, and then look at websites for both sides: Stronger In and Vote Leave for instance.

You can also check out our other articles on CommonSpace, and keep an eye on the site for coverage leading up to the referendum.

Whatever way you are going to vote, though, make sure you register by 7 June and make your decision by 23 June, which is referendum day. You can register to vote here.

Pictures courtesy of European Parliament and Rory Watson

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