Young people left out of Europe debate

Theo Davies-Lewis argues that young voters are at a disadvantage with the forthcoming Welsh elections and European referendum.

The 23rd of the June is billed as one of the most historic moments in modern British history.

On the other hand, the 5th of May is fast approaching, and the Welsh Assembly Elections are also the most interesting since devolution.

Europe: In or Out?

This week on Click on Wales we are debating whether Wales should remain in Europe ahead of the referendum on June 23rd.

You can read all of the series here.

Thus, young people in our country face a dilemma – where do our priorities lie? And where in what sphere of debate can the most change be achieved, if any?

Firstly, the significance of the European Union referendum is clear, as the last referendum on Britain’s relationship in Europe happened all the way back in 1975. I, like many other teenagers, obviously had no influence in that referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Community Market (EEC).

However, it appears that this EU referendum also will neglect the importance of young people and their views.

While it was clear that Prime Minister David Cameron would ensure that 16-and-17-olds would not have the vote in the referendum, the first aspect that specifically disadvantages young voters from Wales is the fact that the Welsh Assembly Elections will be held on the 5th of May – a mere 49 days before the EU referendum. The close proximity in which these huge political events will be held will disorientate the political decisions of young people.

Are young people that daft to get confused over two different political decisions?

No, of course not.

But this decision is now final, despite the fact that all Party leaders in the Assembly wrote to David Cameron to share their concern for how a “June referendum date would mean that the campaigning period for the referendum would overlap with the campaigning for the May elections to our National Assembly.”

Wales has been dominated by Labour since devolution and there now seems to be a possibility that the dynamics of Welsh politics might be changing. Nonetheless, the EU referendum will overshadow key issues such as education and tuition fee subsidies that matter to young people. It does not matter whether you are a Plaid, Liberal, Tory, Labour or a UKIP supporter – the EU referendum will surely neglect the already ‘guaranteed’ support of Europhilic youngsters.

As well as this, the signing of letters to newspapers such as The Telegraph does get a bit old after a while. We’ve already had 13 of Britain’s most senior former military commanders urging voters to back EU membership to protect British national security, not to mention the fact one of them didn’t even know he was on the list!

The scare-mongering is tiring. Young people don’t want to read letters on whether ‘Remain’ will lead to the bureaucratic cult of all organisations  or how ‘Leave’ will cause Big Ben to collapse – young people want the facts. There needs to be less rhetoric and more firm answers. In somewhere like Wales, where a third of children are in poverty and there is a severe deficiency in the sustainability of our steel industry, what will staying in or leaving the EU do for us?

Coupled with both issues of scaremongering and the scheduling of the referendum, the media play a huge role in the delivery of information to youngsters. Social media, national newspapers and political pamphlets are all forms of obtaining information on the debates. In spite of this, young people will suffer the impact of a deflated media in Wales. A thriving print and television media in Wales would be the best mechanism to deliver opinions, facts and debate to readers over the country.

The centralisation of the London-based media, fully pledged to different political parties, limits the ability of young people to understand the bigger picture. Young people themselves do not normally have a platform to express their views on the EU referendum and the issues of the Welsh elections, therefore weakening the politicians understanding of the concerns of young people in the first instance.

My generation are those who will be making the decisions of tomorrow; and it appears they have little to no influence over the two most important political events that will affect Wales in this generation. Young people want to have a voice, but they don’t.

It always seems to be young people in Wales who suffer. At least the 16-year-old Scots have the vote in Holyrood in May!

Thus, do young people have influence in the Assembly Elections and EU referendum? Not really.

Articles like these can only hope to wake up the politicians in Cardiff Bay and Westminster – showing that young people do care and are citizens who want and need a voice to shape the future of our country.

Theo Davies-Lewis is a sixth-form student at St. Michael’s School in Llanelli, who has been published by various media outlets such as the Huffington Post, the Western Mail and CAMBRIA magazine amongst others; mostly discussing political and social issues surrounding young people. He tweets at @TheoDL1997.

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