Written for The Telegraph
On Thursday 23 June, all across the UK, individuals visited polling stations and put a cross on a slip of ballot paper as they cast their votes in the EU referendum.
In the run up to the day, the question of whether or not the UK should remain a member of the European Union divided families across the country; divisions that are still in place today.
Beth Carroll-Travers, a 21-year-old from Sheffield, voted Remain because she believes that, “although the EU has its flaws it is far better to stay at the negotiating table and have a say rather than leave and plunge our country into instability and uncertainty”.
Her parents voted Leave, (her stepdad was swung from Remain), citing “the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the undemocratic way the EU functions” as two of their principle reasons for doing so.
Beth said that for her, “the lack of a plan from ‘Brexit’ was the most worrying part”, and that her parents, “backed a campaign that had no idea what to do following their potential win”. She says that she “angry cried” following her mother telling her to “calm down” about the result of the referendum.
Beth is not alone in her frustration. Many young people voted differently to their parents.
My 18-year-old sister and I both voted Remain, whilst both of our parents voted Leave. Although it would be very easy for me to go down the same path as Beth and my sister – getting angry at my parents for the way they voted, of blaming them for ‘ruining my future’ – young people must stop tarring older generations with the same brush and instead have faith in the democratic process.
Certainly, some Leave voters hold racist views. The increase in the number of reports of hate crimes and racial abuse following the EU referendum shows that, for some people, the UK’s decision to leave the EU apparently justifies xenophobia.
Some of these individuals will be grandparents or parents, others will have been young people, disillusioned with their situation and looking for someone to point a finger at.
Young voters, however, must acknowledge that not everyone who voted Leave – including those who cited immigration as their principle reason for doing so – was motivated by racism or xenophobia.
Individuals who work in the education or healthcare sectors see first hand the effect of immigration on the UK. My mother, who is a teaching assistant at a Catholic primary school in Sheffield, sees children from the EU arrive in the middle of the school year.
Her time is spent one-on-one lessons with these children, developing their English so that they are able to understand and participate in the lessons with the rest of the class.
My mother feels frustrated with the current system, because the unpredictable nature of these children’s arrival into the UK (arising from the free movement of people within the European Union) prevents schools from knowing in advance how big classes will be by the end of the school year.
This, in turn, means that schools don’t know how many teaching assistants they will need to employ.
Similarly, my father works in a hospital as a consultant neonatologist. Among other reasons for voting Leave, he cited his belief that it is reasonable for immigrants to undergo a process of evaluation in the same way he was assessed prior to working in Australia and Canada.
My parents’ reasons for voting Leave made me realise that older generations are just as frustrated as young people. And that they are equally entitled to voice these frustrations and vote in a way in which they believe will change their current situation.
This process is called democracy, and no matter how disappointed you may be about the outcome of the referendum last Thursday, it is important to accept the will of the majority.
Many first time voters, like my sister, will be disappointed that their vote for Remain was a vote for the losing side, in the same way that many first time voters were disappointed when they voted Labour, and Ed Miliband lost the General Election so catastrophically last year.
The closeness of the EU referendum vote has made many young people and other Remain voters sign a petition calling for a second referendum. The fact that the petition has accrued nearly 4 million signatures – more than any other petition on the parliamentary website – shows the extent to which many people are unhappy.
Many young people are angry because they believe that older generations who voted Leave will not have to live with the consequences of Brexit for as long. Sixteen and 17-year-olds who are politically engaged, but who were not able to vote, are justifiably angry at their inability to have a say in an issue which will have a large impact on their futures.
Yet, more than 30 million people voted last week – the turnout of 71.8 per cent was the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the general election of 1992. According to polling by Lord Ashcroft, younger voters were much more likely to vote Remain than older voters, but in practice, turnout in areas with a higher proportion of younger residents tended to be lower.
This shows that although young people may be keen to engage with the debate on social media, when it comes to registering to vote and actually doing so on the day, they still have a long way to go if they are to make their voices heard.
Young people shouldn’t be angry at Mum and Dad for voting Leave, but they should be angry at their friends and acquaintances who didn’t vote at all. It is estimated that only 36 per cent of young people bothered to exercise their democratic right – a right that people fought and died for.
If young people had shown up to polling stations last Thursday, then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t be facing the tidal wave of uncertainty that we are now.