What referendum? How the credibility of British politics pivots on a developing democracy

By Joe Carton.

It’s Thursday, 23rd June 2016. 7:00am. Two weeks into the European Championships and four days before the start of Wimbledon. The alarm on your phone rattles the room. Disbelieving, you bury your head in the pillow. It’s still on the ‘Marimba’ jingle. You need to remember to change that.

One arm emerges from the duvet. Patting hopelessly, trying to find the phone. The more frustrated you get, the louder it seems to become. You grimace. ‘Just make the bloody noise stop’.

Phone recovered. Your thumb, performing its morning routine, punches in the passcode and snoozes the alarm. Through squinted eyes you see the green blur of the WhatsApp icon. Eighty-three unread messages. Clearly you missed something juicy on the group chat last night. You scroll through just to check that you haven’t been the subject of any abuse.

You breathe a sigh of relief. You’re all good.

Anyway, you’re up now. Black coffee. No sugar. You take a slurp, check Twitter then Facebook, and plan through your day ahead.

It’s due to be a fairly standard Thursday. Off work by seven, home by eight, a quick turnaround and then off out for your sister’s birthday dinner. You ask Siri what Euro games will be on TV and then record them on Sky+ via the app.

But hang on. ‘What about?’

Your eyes narrow. ‘Is that today?’

Bemused at your own bewilderment, you double-check the date. You’re right. It’s June 23rd– the day of the EU referendum. Good thing you remembered too. You’re not that interested in politics, but you’ve just turned nineteen and so this vote will shape your future as much as it will shape anyone else’s.

Like everybody else nowadays though, you are busy and spare time is hard to come by. The polling station isn’t near, and unless you are willing to be late for work there is no way you will get there this morning.

You pause. Hang on a second. Actually, there is no way you will get there today at all.

Bit of a disappointment, but surely not the end of the world. Plus, it’d be too inconvenient to change your plans at this late stage. ‘Oh well, it’s not as if my vote will make the difference’, you tell yourself. It’s a convenient and comforting excuse.

The UK votes on EU membership on June 23rd 2016.
The UK votes on EU membership on June 23rd 2016.

Come the EU referendum, huge numbers of young people are likely to express similar sentiment. However the decision over whether the UK remains inside the European Union could depend on the actions of young people. A recent Opinium survey found that in the 18-34 age group, 53% of people said that they back staying in, against 29% who want to leave. But only just over half (52%) of our age group said they were likely to vote.

And they should be forgiven. Democratic politics, the cornerstone of British values, has yet again failed to evolve at a sufficient pace and reflect the developments of the society it is required to assist. Like a complacent sports team, British democracy is still basking in the success of its last major victory (equal voting rights for all), rather than looking to its next challenge.

Out-dated, bureaucratic and inconvenient, it is time for politics to fast-forward to the present and have online voting introduced. In the UK, 38 million people are on Facebook and 15 million are on Twitter. Britain is tech literate, but we have increasingly complex lifestyles. A 24/7 culture has replaced the days of ‘9-5’ working, and therefore the traditional polling station fails to reflect modern day working patterns.

Just as you scroll through Twitter on your phone, post on Facebook from your tablet, or record a show via Sky+, you should be able to vote online. Whilst online voting is not a silver bullet and should be part of a wider package of measures, it is the one component that is vital for driving the modernisation of our democratic landscape. If democracy is to improve, it must become more accessible.

Joe Carton is a Public Affairs Executive at Bellenden and a History graduate from Durham University.

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