Don't let apathy decide your future
'Elliott', 2016

In the context of the European Union referendum, there is little that can really be said about a particular “graduate perspective” as any identifiable group. Most of the familiar politicians clocking up endless media appearances – with the not so honourable exception of UKIP leader Nigel Farage – are themselves graduates, both Brexiteers and Remainers. But perhaps a more useful distinction is that of recent graduates – a far more readily identifiable constituency. They (i.e., we) may decide the result.

Polling is showing that the result is in the balance. Polls can be misleading. Last May before the general election few thought that David Cameron would be prime minister, let alone commanding a majority; the polls were also wide of the mark in the Scottish independence referendum. But even given these lowered expectations, there is still a larger than usual margin of uncertainty for the referendum in just over a week. Predicting the result in polling is made more difficult by the lack of past comparison against which to measure swings in sentiment. It could well be very close.

There are many arguments in favour of leaving the European Union. First of all, if you believe that Parliament should have absolute power over lawmaking in Britain, then voting out is clearly a given. Even if you are not a strict British constitutionalist there can be little doubt that the institution itself is seriously flawed. The power of the unelected European Commission is far too great, and the way in which the euro binds weaker nations to the decisions the Commission makes shows that the shared currency without political and monetary union is doomed to fail when crisis comes.

But I have already voted Remain. In many ways my reasons are the average for recent graduates: I value cooperation above absolute sovereignty; shared strength above isolated splendour; and (emphatically) community above the nativism that often has more than a tinge of selective xenophobia (few complain about the large Irish population any more, or the hundreds of thousands of French nationals). I also believe that it is worth swapping some sovereignty for the economic and political heft that comes with being part of the Union.

It would probably also trigger the break-up of the United Kingdom, with another Scottish independence referendum essentially guaranteed if it’s a Brexit result. Perhaps more worringly, it would seriously disrupt the delicate balance of Northern Irish politics, with a new border with the Republic of Ireland.

Many recent graduates will have similar reasons to me, not least having been trained in the exchange of knowledge, much of it moving across borders in thought, deed, even language. But the Remain campaign may struggle to turn the views of people like me into a majority in the referendum.

One of the few things which is close to certain is that turnout will have a big impact. And the cast-iron rule of turn-out in elections is that younger voters (me, us) are far less likely to vote than older voters. Older generations are thought to be more likely to vote Leave, and vice versa for younger voters.

There can be no truly reliable predictions, but apathy could win it for Leave. And there could surely be no less satisfactory way for Britain to make such a momentous decision – one that will decide Britain’s place in the world for generations – than by apathy?

It will hardly be news, therefore, that this particular graduate would be numb on the 24th of June if Britain started to dismantle the Union, flawed as it is. If the fate of Britain in the years to come is decided by the apathy of the people who will have to live with the decision for most of their lives, that numbness will have a bitter edge.