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Why it’s vital that students vote in the EU referendum

16 May 2016
Chris Husbands

Professor Chris Husbands

Sheffield Hallam University
Margaret Thatcher poster to vote yes to Europe

I’d be lying (and that’s something Vice-Chancellors should never be caught doing) if I said that I played any part at all in the 1975 referendum on Britain’s membership of the Common Market.

I was 16, I had plenty of other things on my mind and the referendum was something in the distant background. I have a vague recollection of being out one Saturday morning in a (then new) shopping arcade, and having leaflets thrust into my hand by earnest-looking adults.

The news archive photographs which are unearthed from time to time show a different world – there is a striking one of Margaret Thatcher wearing a jumper knitted with Common Market flags all over it which must have embarrassed everyone at the time, let alone later.  Even so, it is much livelier than the grainy black and white photographs of dull middle aged men sitting in front of badly-produced posters.

But I didn’t think much about the referendum – Europe was, to paraphrase a much earlier Prime Minister, a faraway place of which I knew little. I’d never been ‘to Europe’ (although, of course, growing up in the Midlands it turns out that I had, in fact, spent my entire life in Europe). I thought of it as distant and a bit glamorous and I hoped, rather than expected, that one day I might get to go there so I wanted the ‘yes’ side to win the referendum – which even as a pre-occupied 16 year-old, I realised was a wily Prime Minister’s solution to an intractable problem of party management.

Rolling forward 41 years and there is a sense of déjà vu: a wily Prime Minister has a problem of party management and once again we are debating our future in Europe. And now I am one of those adults who thinks more about it than most young people.

One striking thing about the 2016 referendum debate is that, so far, it has by and large been an argument amongst middle aged and elderly people. And that’s wrong. The decision we make on June 23rd will shape everyone’s lives in one way or another, but it will shape the lives of young people far more decisively than the lives of (and imagine the pain I feel in writing the next few words) old men like me.

All the evidence we have is that older people are more likely to vote than younger people. And that also has to be wrong. The referendum vote on June 23rd will – it has to – be a moment of national decision making. It’s more important than a general election: we get the opportunity to vote on our government every five years, but this is a decision which will shape decades. And it will be decisive.

Even if the result is, as it looks like being, very close, it is one of those fork-in-the-road decisions. A vote of 50.1% to leave will produce a very different trajectory from a vote of 50.1% to stay.

And so this blog is really addressed to students, wherever they may be. It’s really important that you vote. This is about your future – about the sort of country and world you are going to live in.

Back in 1975, I thought that the Cricket World Cup and my O-levels were more important. I was wrong – no-one ever really showed much interest in either after they had happened. But the referendum result did matter:  in big and small ways, it shaped my life.  I did get to travel around Europe, routinely, taking it for granted, and my life and perspective were changed as a consequence. So in 2016, however obscure and remote the arguments seem, vote.

The registration deadline for voting is 7 June. If you do nothing else today, make sure you are registered to vote.

This blog was posted originally on the Sheffield Hallam University blog site

Leave a Comment

Juls says:
16 June 2016 at 13:04

I'm really disappointed to read yet another 'older' person claiming we should all vote to stay in the EU, supposedly to offer a better future for younger people.  He recalls the 1975 referendum where Britain voted to stay in the EU - then called the Common Market, and duping many voters into believing it to be simply a route to easier trade.  We now know that the EU, as it became, has much bigger aims.  for the vice chancellor however, what mattered most about the vote to stay was that it resulted in him having the opportunity to "travel round Europe routinely, taking it for granted."  For goodness sake.  Members of my family were able to travel round Europe easily back in the 50s, and so were many students of the time.  Do today's students imagine Britain and the rest of Europe will pull up some sort of drawbridge if we vote to come out of this expensive, bloated, and unaccountable organisation now known as the EU, and that they will no longer be able to travel around Europe?

The receipt of grant funding from the EU to British Universities has done exactly what was intended:  influenced senior academics into disregarding the many disadvantages and dangers of being in the EU,  such as the fact that within the EU and the euro area, youth unemployment is sky-rocketting.  The unelected European Commission decide on Europe's laws with the ECJ overidding the laws of member states, including Britain; in reality we have little or no influence in the EU parliament, and are constantly defeated thanks to increasing amounts of voting by qualitative majority; we are gaining an unsustainable population because wecannot control immigration from the EU, and even our freedom of speech is under threat.  Finally, we have no control over the billions paid by Britain into the EU.  British University education was once without fees to students.  Grants from within the UK were once available - something from which I myself benefitted. were Britain not sending billions to the EU every year, University education could once more be free.   Students; Vote Leave.  Your future depends on it.