Last Friday, I woke up in my childhood bedroom, having returned to the village where I grew up the day before to vote in the UK’s EU referendum. Turning over in the well-worn tie-dye IKEA sheets my mum had fitted on the bed, I fumbled for my phone I had placed on the bedside table seven hours before. Seven hours before, when contemplating staying up for the referendum results to flood in, I’d thought, “It’s never going to be a ‘leave’ victory anyway” and had slunk off to bed.
In true millennial fashion, Facebook was the first to inform me that our country had voted to leave the European Union. Scrolling down my newsfeed at 6.30am in the morning, post after post cried out in disbelief and upset at the result. It was the first time I found myself actively turning to the little upset emoji as my response to an incredulous amount of outpours of sadness, confusion and bitter disappointment from friends across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. With my British friends largely sharing live ‘Breaking News’ updates from the BBC and The Guardian as well as ironic, bittersweet memes and Buzzfeed articles about what a post-Brexit UK might look like (this, for example, helped lighten what was a truly bleak day), I found the most heartbreaking reactions being those of my friends and family scattered across the rest of the EU and further field. Britain, they asked, what is happening?
I’m still struggling to articulate how I felt that morning. Embarrassed, confused, shocked, dismayed, defeated…? Ten days on, the feelings of despair, anxiety and pit-in- the-bottom- of-my- stomach, are still simmering away. With each new resignation of an MP, and each announcement of a new Conservative party Prime Minister candidate, I can only wonder how long this will go on for. No end to this ‘crisis’ is in sight; there is absolutely no sign of a concrete plan for what a future post-Brexit UK will entail either. With Boris Johnson of the Conservative party and Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader, having both resigned despite the Leave campaign being largely driven by their slander, lies and ignorance, I can’t help but feel furious at their cowardly escape from resolving the mess they have led this country into. Symbolic safety pins are being worn to show solidarity with non-UK citizens residing here. Although we are going to need a lot more than just safety pins to fix the rising hate crimes and racial discrimination taking place across the country in the wake of the Brexit decision.
I have grown up in the EU. I am proud to be a Scottish, British and European citizen. As a young twenty-two year old, I hope to continue to grow, learn and discover myself as an individual in this union and I reach out a hand to wish to do the same. By taking the UK out of the union, we are closing off opportunities for individuals to live, study, work, trade and travel across the other 27 EU nations and equally, closing off these opportunities to those who wish to experience British culture and society themselves. This new future is not one I ever thought to imagine. Or one I want to imagine now, for that matter.
Whilst, of course, I respect the democratic public decision to leave the EU, it is sad to see that the majority of young people aged 18-25 that turned out to vote, voted to remain. I can begin to understand and empathise with the frustration felt by many young people across the UK who feel they have had their voices dampened and their futures somewhat sabotaged by the older generations who made up the majority of the Leave vote.
However, I can’t help but feel this argument blatantly ignores the more deep-rooted issue of youth political engagement. Instead of hotly pointing the blame to the ‘old biddies out of touch with the youth of today’, we, as young citizens, should really be tuning our attention and concerns to the state of youth participation. Yes, the majority of young voters voted to remain however, statistics have revealed that 64% of UK’s youth aged 19-25 didn’t vote at all in the first place. How can we expect our youth voices, hopes and agendas to be part of the EU to be heard, and accounted for, if only 36% of us actively participate in the decision-making processes that directly affect our lives?
In these uncertain and saddening times, I can only hope young people across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world can treat this as an example as to why we must continue to campaign and advocate for the youth voice in decision making. Moreover, I hope this highlights why we must make greater efforts as young people to reach out to and engage more youth in politics, otherwise our voices will continue to be drowned out before we’ve even had the chance to speak.
Our next Google Hangout “Voices of Youth in the EU” will take place on the 24th July at 2pm GMT. Keep an eye out for updates and announcements of our panelists in the forthcoming weeks.
Katie Reid is the Program Director at the Global Institute for Youth.