Not in our name: Glasgow students reject Brexit

Published

Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Georgina Hayes
Editor

83% of Glasgow-based students feel that the Brexit vote does not represent their generation

A Glasgow Guardian survey has revealed that Glasgow-based students overwhelmingly reject Brexit, and that they do not feel the result of the 2016 referendum represents their generation. The survey was launched just days before Theresa May’s Brexit deal was due to face a vote in the House of Commons.

Of 314 respondents, 83% feel that the vote to leave the European Union does not represent their generation. Furthermore, 36% of respondents could not vote in the referendum due to being too young, despite the fact that the ramifications of Brexit directly impact their future. Of those that were too young to vote in 2016, 84% say they would have voted Remain given the opportunity.

Alongside the survey, three Glasgow Guardian team members who were too young to vote in the 2016 referendum have spoken out against the result and the implications it has for the younger generation.

Glasgow Guardian Views Editor Bethany Woodhead spoke of how she feels democracy has failed her generation in the case of Brexit:

“I was 3 months too young to vote in the referendum, which is incredibly frustrating because my entire future was dictated by other people simply because I fell short of a bracket just ever so slightly. I was, along with almost every other young person I knew, heavily involved in the lead up to, and the aftermath of, the EU referendum; but it felt like we were silenced. Democracy, in this case, has failed us.

“Perhaps even more annoyingly, my 84-year old grandmother was hugely misinformed and frankly uninterested in the referendum, yet she voted leave ‘because her friends did’. I begged her to use her vote as my vote, as it was my future at stake and I’d have to live with the result of her choice; but she didn’t and, in a very matter-of-fact way of putting it, she won’t be around to witness the results of her choice.”

On what should happen next, 51% of students surveyed think that there should be a People’s Vote and 18% think that the UK should remain in the EU without another referendum at all. Only 8.3% think that Parliament should accept Theresa May’s deal and 7.7% think the UK should pursue a “no deal” Brexit scenario.

Tara Gandhi, Investigations Editor and a politics student, also missed out on being able to vote in the 2016 referendum by a matter of months:

“Watching the Brexit vote and process unfold has been very challenging as someone who couldn’t vote, and only by a few months. My inability to have a say in something that is going to have such an impact on my future in so many ways has left me feeling very dejected, as are many of my peers.

“The practical lack of opposition throughout the process has only made these feelings stronger, and I think that there will be lasting impacts on voter apathy following this seemingly never-ending process that voters are having little to no say on. I believe the public have a right to vote on Theresa May’s final deal – not a redo of the referendum, but an assessment of whether the deal our representatives have negotiated is one that the public believes in the way a majority believed in the original Brexit vote. The majority voted to leave the EU because they felt the deal we had with the EU was not working for the country. To walk blindly into a new deal (or no deal), pretending any option is a better option, would be naive to the extent of absurdity.”

On whether or not they are disappointed by Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit, half (51%) of all respondents said that they are, and 29% said they are not sure. Only 18.5% of respondents said that they are not disappointed in Corbyn’s approach.

Jack Corban, Views Editor of The Glasgow Guardian and Labour Party member says he feels let down by Corbyn’s lack of a strong anti-Brexit stance:

“It’s really disappointing to see a Labour leader motivate young people to get politically active, only to see him fail to take a strong stance on one of the most important issues facing our generation.

“The repercussions of Brexit will likely be experienced most prominently by our generation, yet I felt unable to have a say on my future. Instead, I get unfairly patronised with ‘we’re doing this for you’ by older voters.”

On how they would vote if there were to be a People’s Vote, 85% of all respondents say they would vote Remain.

Age has shown to be a great fault line in the contentious Brexit debate, with the vast majority of over 65s having voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, compared to the vast majority of under 25s that were eligible to vote voting Remain.

On Thursday 22 November the University of Glasgow hosted a Brexit Summit on higher education organised by Richard Lochhead, the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education & Science. At the summit, [see The Glasgow Guardian report on page 4], serious concerns were raised about the impact of Brexit on the higher education sector, its staff and its students. Preceding the summit, a joint statement was released by the Scottish Government, Colleges Scotland, Universities Scotland, National Union of Students Scotland, Unison, Educational Institute of Scotland, University and College Union and Royal Society of Edinburgh. The statement announced actions and principles supported by the signees aiming to offset the worst effects of Brexit on the Scottish education sector. However, many attendees at the event expressed concern that this statement alone was not enough.

Universities Scotland, a representative body of Scotland’s nineteen higher education institutions, came under particular fire at the summit, with many in attendance expressing disappointment and incredulity at the organisation for saying that it will not take an official stance should there be a second EU membership referendum.

Dr Anna Notaro, a Senior Lecturer of Contemporary Media Theory at the University of Dundee, an EU citizen and attendee of the Brexit Summit has told The Glasgow Guardian of her disappointment with Universities Scotland: “My interest in Brexit in general is two-fold, on one hand it affects me personally [by] being an EU citizen who is about to be deprived of her freedom of movement and has to apply to be able to remain in my own home.

“Post-Brexit referendum I find the decision of Universities Scotland to ‘remain neutral’ profoundly disappointing and overall incoherent if one considers the positive case for remaining in the EU that universities themselves have put forward before the Brexit referendum and since.

“We are at a critical juncture in the history of Britain and of Europe, universities cannot sit on the fence, this is the time for them to affirm in the strongest possible terms that knowledge knows no borders and that freedom of movement is the necessary precondition for science and humanities to flourish. A new national migration policy built on fear will be the end of universities as we know them, surely that was not on the ballot paper in July 2016!”

On whether they are letting staff and students down by not taking a stance on a new Brexit referendum, a Universities Scotland spokesperson told The Glasgow Guardian:

“Universities Scotland took a principled and neutral stance in the EU referendum, just as it did during the Scottish independence referendum. As a charity it’s our prerogative to remain politically neutral on matters of democratic choice. We don’t believe it is our place to tell others how to vote.

“Our neutrality on constitutional outcomes does not stop us being highly vocal on the policy and funding outcomes we want to see for the success of the sector. We have continuously emphasised our priorities to all sides of this debate, including: freedom of mobility for staff and students; the rights of EU staff to be retained and access to EU programmes such as Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.”

On the results of the Glasgow Guardian survey, and whether the University would take an official stance in the event of a second EU membership referendum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli said: “I have said consistently that my fear is that the higher education sector will be one of the sectors that is hardest hit by Brexit – and that means that our students’ future opportunities risk being diminished. If Brexit goes ahead, my concern is that today’s students will have less access to European networks and less chance to contribute to the great collaborative endeavours of the 21st century.

The Glasgow Guardian’s polling figures do not surprise me – I know how the vast majority of our students value being part of a university that is international in its outlook and allows students from every corner of the world to share lecture theatres, seminars and the activities available in our University community. They value working alongside their EU peers and being part of an inclusive yet outward-looking community.

“Our University hosted a Brexit Summit recently which was organised by the Scottish Government’s Minister for Further and Higher Education, Richard Lochhead, and attended by representatives of FE, He and student bodies. It coincided with a Joint Agreement on a united approach to protect Scottish tertiary education from the worst effects of Brexit. For the sake of all the students and staff here at Glasgow – and elsewhere in Scotland – I hope that Brexit can be stopped in its tracks and that the UK is allowed to remain in the EU or at the very least that freedom of movement for students and colleagues as well as participation in European programmes is safeguarded.”

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said: “The University has not taken a position on the referendum result, which is part of a UK-wide political process. However, over the last two years we have expressed concern about – inter alia – the possible impact of Brexit on students and staff from other EU countries; the potential impact on the University’s attractiveness as a place of study for undergraduate students from other EU countries; the flow of research funds from the EU; the possibility of a recession resulting from Brexit; and the possibility of reputational damage if we are impeded from collaborating effectively with partners in the rest of the EU.

“We are particularly concerned about the potential consequences of a no-deal outcome and would urge all parties to work together to avoid this.

“We will continue to support staff and students who are concerned about the effects of Brexit to the best of our ability. We will also strive to ensure that the University focuses on its core business and continues to prosper in the potentially challenging times ahead.”

The Glasgow Guardian firmly believes that the outcome of the 2016 EU membership referendum is wholly unrepresentative of the younger generation, and that we must be exhaustive in our efforts to stop Brexit. We also believe that Universities Scotland must take a stance and officially back a People’s Vote if they are truly committed to protecting the future of students and standing in solidarity with EU staff and students.