"Ideally, students shouldn’t just vote ‘as students’"David Runciman/POLIS

Professor David Runciman has been head of the Department of Politics and International Studies since October 2014. He sat down with Varsity's Jack Higgins to discuss some of the key topics in next week's referendum on the EU. 


I am in favour of Remain, partly because I have spent most of my adult life attached to the ideal of a more united Europe and I’d be sorry to give up on that, and partly because I think the political risks of leaving outweigh those of staying. But I’m aware these are fairly fragile arguments – one quite wishful and one quite negative – and I certainly don’t think there are no serious arguments on the other side. People have good reason to be suspicious of the EU and some of the claims made on its behalf.

European Integration

It’s not too late to leave. In fact, you could say that it might be too early – in 5-10 years time some of the basic issues might be starker, particularly in relation to the Euro, which is likely to have passed through another crisis. Likewise with migration, which will force action at some point.

At the moment we don’t really know whether Europe is going to change dramatically anyway, and those changes might make the choice clearer for us.

That’s one reason to suppose that this referendum may not be the last one on our membership, whatever we decide this time.

A Historic Decision?

I can’t believe that in 20 years’ time we wouldn’t notice the impact, even if we do find that we’ve voted more than once in that period: a decision to leave has the potential to make a fundamental difference to British and European politics. In economic terms, 20 years is an absurdly long time to try to make any sort of forecast. Whatever the state of the British economy in 2036, it’s unlikely we’d be able to trace it back to any single moment of decision, including this one. There are too many contingencies.

But politics is different. If the Tory party splits, or Labour splits, or other European countries follow the UK example and quit the EU, or Scotland votes to leave the UK, then I think we might have some idea of what triggered it. This referendum could produce a lot of uncertainty in the short-term, but in 20 years it won’t be uncertainty any more. It will be the history of our times.

Students and the EU

The advantages of Europe are the most obvious for people with the greatest educational opportunities, which is why many students are for Remain. But it’s important not just to frame the argument in those terms: if the EU seems like a project for the benefit of the cosmopolitan elite then frustration with it from people who don’t share those advantages will just grow.

Ideally, students shouldn’t just vote ‘as students’, though I realise that makes me sound a bit high-minded (people can and do vote in their own interests, as I probably would have done when I was a student).

I’ll sound even higher-minded when I say that the most important thing is not how students vote, but simply that they vote at all.

Too many young people who have the vote don’t use it.
They should.

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