Last year, I had the pleasure of attending One Young World, which as well as being the largest gathering of nations second only to the Olympic Games, also happens to bring over 1,300 millennial leaders together in an attempt to find youth-led solutions to some of the worlds more pressing issues.
I found myself being humbled by a collective consciousness of change making that filled me with hope that this millennial generation has it in them to solve many of the world’s ills.
Unity is one such millennial trait helping in this pursuit. The ease at which Generation Y overcome cultural and language barriers to solve problems – thanks in part to higher levels of connectivity, access to technology and increased travel – is in stark contrast to previous generations. Consequently, unity was the theme I was asked to write about at the end of last year’s Summit due to the then recent news of the British government’s decision to hold a referendum on European membership after the next general election.
Having seen what can be achieved through collaboration, my new affinity for togetherness took precedent over my feelings towards the EU and I concluded that isolationism, regardless of ones political opinion, is counterproductive in achieving the countless tasks the international community are faced with.
It unsettles me then that we’re faced with separation from another Union, that of the United Kingdom. But can the millennial trend for togetherness spare us the breakup of this historic political union?
The Scottish referendum will be the first major ballot in the UK to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote and over 100,000 have registered to do just that. Data from a recent survey suggests that some 57 per cent of young voters said they would vote no, while just 43 per cent said yes, giving Better Together a 14-point lead over their rivals.
In fact, ScotCen, a Scottish social research organisation, claim that such a low level of support for independence is ‘remarkable’. It seems that rather than being more likely to support independence than the rest of the population, it appears that, if anything, young people are far less likely to do so.
Two factors that this research suggests are important in influencing young people’s views about independence are, first, the lack of confidence they feel about becoming independent.
Young people across the world, including Scotland, have suffered immeasurably due to the economy, high rates of youth unemployment and a lack of opportunity. This so called ‘lost generation’, I fear, would resent their elders further if not for allowing them to contribute in determining the collective fate of a country they’ll eventually grow up to inherit. They are also far less likely to vote inline with their parents – a common misconception among those who believe young people are largely apathetic towards the political process.
But however much independence troubles the youth of Scotland and the widening gap between them and adults, it’s the second factor which takes precedent. Unlike older generations, the research suggests that young people in Scotland are more inclined to feel a strong sense of British identity.
Those aged 14-17 are much less likely to have a strong sense of Scottish identity than those aged 18-24 or, indeed, adults in general. Only 12% of 14-17 year olds say that they are ‘Scottish, not British’, compared with no less than 35% of 18-24 year olds and 23% of adults as a whole. Although very few young people claim to be primarily or exclusively British, no less than 45% say they are equally British and Scottish, well above the equivalent figure for 18-24 year olds (22%) and that for all adults (30%).
The research suggests that this shared sense of identity may be a result of growing up in a digitised world in which interpersonal communication is no longer bound by geography. Indeed, this would fit the profile of a global millennial exhibited by the Global Millennial Survey (2013).
Millennials, the survey suggests, have been heavily influenced by access to technology, which has given them a passion to participate in solving challenges facing communities and the world. They also have a greater belief they can make a difference, are civically engaged, and feel more empowered to drive change through technology.
It seem that however Thursday’s vote goes, Scottish millennials are comparable to their global counterparts in more ways than one and an obvious link seems to exist between access to technology and the age of the electorate in determining how one votes.
For a young Englishmen passionate about active Citizenship, this really is a unique opportunity to see how a young demographic behaves in a major ballot. The real question remains: will they make a big enough impact to sway the vote?