The referendum process on membership of the European Union has been recognised by champions of both “Leave” and “Remain’ as deeply flawed. A sour debate characterised by personal animosity, accusations of mendacity, and scant regard for evidence and its evaluation. The outcome remains uncertain; the question put was deceptively simple, the answer received is complex and opaque. Both “Remain” and “Leave” generated self-contradictory expectations among their supporters. When the necessarily pragmatic proposals for the implementation of Brexit are finally put forward by government, perceived promises will not be kept, and a lot of hopes will be dashed.
The referendum exposed an extraordinary lack of political awareness. It revealed a disturbing sense of alienation among those voting “Leave” especially in relation to immigration.The United Kingdom is deeply divided; doubts are raised about the future of the United Kingdom itself; and intolerant actions are following intolerant words. The fragility of our society and our constitution has been exposed.
Bringing the country back together to a common purpose, and healing our divisions requires all of us to exercise citizenship of a high order; in an informed way, with tolerance and respect for each other. Politics is an essential part of civilised society. It is vital that it is conducted well.
Young people had the lowest rate of engagement in a referendum that made a decision which will effect their lives for decades; polls indicate that only 36% of 18 to 24 year olds turned out to vote. The young who did vote showed marked differences in their views from the older voters. There is great evidence, among young people, of a lack of confidence in the integrity of the political process, and their ability to participate effectively and to a purpose. Citizenship is not an innate quality; it requires the development of critical skills, a knowledge base, a system of values, insights and understanding. Citizenship has to be both taught and learned. Without informed and engaged citizens democratic society is meaningless.
We call upon the government and all political parties to renew their commitment to Citizenship Education, and for parents and teachers to involve themselves in this urgent task.