With a few days to go until the biggest political decision of a lifetime, Wessex Scene sat down with James Edwards, Founder of the Southampton chapter of Students For Europe, to discuss why he thinks you should Vote Remain.
Hey James, let’s start with an easy question, why vote remain?
Very simply, because this is about not just your own future, not just your own job prospects but every student’s own careers, job prospects and more. We want to live in a world where there’s a sense of cooperation and that’s what the EU provides.
The most important reason is for your friends – for the sake of them – especially the ones that are from the EU, they have no say in this decision that affects their future. You owe them, you have responsibility to them to vote remain.
So do you think EU residents living in the UK should have a vote?
Yes. Very simply. Both British ex-pats and EU students should definitely have a say – it affects them the most.
Fair enough. So, how do you think the campaign has gone, what sort of response are you getting?
We spent a long time on voter registration, with students in particular, the amount that aren’t registered to vote is shocking.
Why do you think that is?
It’s a complete misunderstanding on the referendum. A lot of students registered at the General Election and think they’re registered but aren’t.
What about actual campaigning – are you speaking to both students and the general public?
Both – we’re talking to students about the issues that affect them. To be honest, it’s my favourite type of campaigning. Students are less selfish than older generations, they don’t just want to hear about why the EU helps them, they want to know things like how the EU affects climate change. To their credit, they’re also concerned with issues like democracy and sovereignty – while I don’t agree with those concerns – those are selfless concerns. They’re not thinking about what’s in my best interest they’re thinking about what’s in the UK’s best interest. That’s why I love campaigning to students.
We also campaign to older demographics. We get concerns like job prospects and that sort of thing.
That’s a really interesting point. Honestly, do you still think Remain are going to win? It’s going to be close, right?
Closer than it should be. It’s going close, purely because of the scare-mongering of vote leave, and the remain campaign’s own inability to be honest with the facts. Over the last six months we’ve had statistics thrown here there and everywhere and it’s gotten to the point no one can trust any statistics. It’s gotten to the point when the IMF say something people say “Well, they were wrong about the financial crisis” which is terrible logic, if you’re wrong about one decision doesn’t mean you can’t be right about another.
I think Remain is going to win it, but it’ll be really close.
Talking of people getting it wrong, the polls were monumentally wrong in the General Election – which is probably due to Shy Torism, do you think there’s an element of Shy-Outism here?
I’m not sure, that’s an interesting question. Leave have been more vocal – it’s quite possible they could be shy on the other side. There may well be a silent majority that will vote to remain, mainly because of the usual – people don’t like to leave the status quo. It will be very tight, probably only 4-5% either way.
Is the EU perfect? No, I don’t know anyone on my side who is arguing that. Can it be reformed? Yes. It’s already made some reforms. It’s nowhere near where we want it to be. But, what’s the result if we leave? Do we want to be like Norway, no? Every country that isn’t in the EU still has to pay some kind of fee or accept some kind of border restraint – but the one thing they don’t have is a say over those exact issues.
Good point, so if you could give one reason to students to vote in, what would it be?
For the sake of the UK – and the world – in the 21st Century. This is a century, more than any other in the past that’s going to be shaped by issues such as security. It’s impossible or a country to be isolationist anymore. The worst thing a country can try and do in that situation is to be isolationist. It’s a century where for the first time, for the UK in 100 years, we are at war in terms of our cultures. Our education system doesn’t tell our children to learn about and appreciate new cultures, it tells us to be afraid of them. We need to be not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic, to quote President Carter.
So tell me, as a student, what am I going to lose by voting out?
If we vote out, we’ll lose things like Erasmus, Switzerland recently tightened its borders and made it harder. Job prospects, I’m pretty optimistic, I think we’d be able to negotiate some kind of trade deal but you’re future will definitely be more uncertain. Economically, we’re definitely going to be harmed by leaving the EU – but no one knows to quite what extent. Most importantly, we’re going to lose out on the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.
You’ve touched on Remain’s inability to campaign well. A lot of the campaigning on both sides has been quite wishy-washy and sensationalist. One thing that has confused me is [David] Cameron saying we can stay in the EU and have controlled immigration. How is that possible?
I don’t think in any sense can we have controlled immigration. We do live in a capitalist system, and free movement of people is integral to that. Cameron is wrong, being part of the EU means we can’t control immigration. We can check who’s coming in and out but if they’re an EU national we can’t deny them unless they have an issue with security or visas or something like that. Take the refugee crisis, the entire refugee crisis for the UK happened in Calais, that’s where the big refugee camp was. If we left the EU that would be happening in Dover, because we’d have to have control of our borders on this side – so it’s not as simple as saying “we can control our borders” – it’s a very complex issue.
The greatest argument to remain is for these new cultures.
Fair enough, moving on, what do you say to the democratic deficit argument? Isn’t the EU run by three unelected commissioners?
First of all, remember, they don’t get to decide policy – MEPs who are elected decide policy. Commissioners write the laws, they don’t decide what they are. The same way the civil service write 90% of the laws in the UK. Is there still a problem with the EU not being as democratic as possible? Absolutely. The EU needs to be far more democratic – but does us leaving make the EU more democratic? Does the UK leaving make the UK more democratic? No. There’s lots of problems with making the UK more democratic too. The question is can we reform the EU and make it more democratic from the inside? Yes.
So, say we do vote out? Do you think we could join again?
Yes, I think they’d welcome us back with open arms – but not with a better deal. The great thing about the EU is it is a community – and it does want to be a real team and have as much cooperation as possible. But when you think about the rise of fascism and anti-EU sentiment across Europe, it’s troubling.
Right, aren’t a third of MEPs from anti-EU parties? It’s so ironic.
Exactly, if you want to talk about another problem with democracy in the EU it’s that so many MEPs don’t want to be in the EU and don’t contribute anything. Farage was on the fishing regulation committee and turned up to one of 41 meetings. If you want to talk about why the EU is changing or improving, look at the MEPs who aren’t showing up. Will we get back in with a good deal? Yes, but not a better one. Remember, the deal we have at the moment is great, we have a massive rebate – more than other country. There is no country that has a good a deal with us.
I guess a big reason for UKIP’s success at the European election is low turn out. Why do you think it’s so bad (particularly with 18-25 year olds). [Editor’s note: turnout was only 35.6% at the European Elections in 2014]
I’m an optimist, so I’m going to go with the lack of knowledge with regard to elections.
So, how can we deal with that?
Well, first of all, 18 is far too late to become involved. If you want a country that’s more democratic, why are we waiting until 18 for people to be able to vote? 16 is a far more accurate for when people are considered by the law as an adult, they can be tried as an adult, let them vote.
In General Elections too?
All elections. You can sign up to the army, get married, take adult punishment but not vote? It’s a problem with democracy, people spend 18 years being told by their parents, teachers and government they have no say – why should they suddenly be interested at 18?
Fair point – thanks for meeting with me James.