What do younger British people actually know about the European Union?
Three younger Crawfs have been making their way through the posh end of the UK education system. Two have finished University and (praise the Lord) are working. Crawf Minima is hurtling towards GCSEs.
I have conducted detailed research into what they have been taught about the European Union in their combined 20 years or so of supposedly first-class education at school and/or university.
Next to nothing. That includes one Crawf who completed a Politics A-Level.
It’s possible nay likely that a young or not-so-young British person has gone through school without having had seriously explained the basic facts about the EU – origins, structure, powers, role and so on. Whatever scraps of EU teaching were out there were from the national curriculum untimely ripp’d in 2013:
A new geography curriculum – published on Thursday – makes no reference to the economic and political union.It stands in stark contrast to the existing document introduced under Labour which requires pupils to study the EU at primary and secondary school.
Whitehall insiders warned that the EU was seen as a political and economic entity and had no place in geography lessons. New history and citizenship syllabuses make reference to the UK’s relationship with Europe but make no mention of the EU itself.
On the other hand, insofar as younger Brits have anything to think about European issues amidst their SnapChat babblings, they seem to like the EU:
We found that UK Youth were often disconnected to what is happening in Europe (with a turnout rate 14 per cent less than the average). Yet still, they did not report holding anti-European sentiments or a need to end UK membership to the EU. Neither did they reject the EU project once they were able to discuss, debate and discover how it might positively impact on their lives. They were nonetheless sceptical of how much influence (or interference) the EU should have in determining national laws and policies on issues such as national security.
Crucially however, the young people acknowledged how harmonisation of educational policies and practices would offer UK youth more opportunities to study outside of the UK – and in turn positively impact on their job prospects. Most alarming from the study, was a common lack of awareness, lack of access to policy-makers, and simply lack of interest in EU affairs (see Sharpe, 2014) …
In the face of these challenges, we have designed an online information service, which will be launched in April 2016 at the request of young people who highlighted experiencing information overload and the bias reporting of the EU, which undermined their participation in the election. To rebalance the narrative and place trustworthy information in the public domain we’ve worked with young people to co-produce an accessible online platform that builds on young people assets as active citizens, knowledge agents and networkers to encourage debate and discussion leading to voting in the referendum from an informed positioned.
The mind boggles at how boring and irrelevant such an ‘information service’ will be.
Meanwhile there is Europe and Me: Europe’s first online lifestyle magazine from young Europeans for young Europeans. There is no doubting just how cool the ‘young Europeans’ running this initiative are:
We have very serious goals. We want to support the emergence of a young European public. We want to contribute to a new perception of the European community – beyond the category of a nation state. And last but not least, we want to have fun! We don’t particularly fancy the boring world of Brussels, we’d rather have the colourful and kitsch world of Eurovision Song Contest. But both of these are us.
As far as I can tell, for most young Brits the EU is something akin to the weather. It’s just there. Sometimes good, sometimes not. But in either case not something to think about in any structured way.
Older UK voters with deeper memories tend to see the EU as somehow reducing the UK’s independence and sovereignty. Younger voters live in a post-modern bubble with no idea what independence and sovereignty mean. They incline en masse to leave things as they are, and are notably more likely to be swayed by grim warnings of post-Brexit economic armageddon, but are not (yet) much motivated to vote on the issue.
Facts? Numbers? Treaty details? The number of people in the UK who know or care about such things in any detail is negligible.
It instead all boils down to that eternal simple choice in politics and basic human instincts
Time for a change!
Steady as she goes!
In this case it’s a battle over which side can successfully claim Optimism, and denounce the other’s Pessimism:
Help! It’s risky to leave!
Help! It’s risky to stay!