People hold placards during a rally.
The last decade of politics has been shot through with examples of the shortcomings in Britain’s democratic process.
In 2010, the hung parliament which resulted in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition led to the poorly planned and ultimately unsuccessful referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which would have finally meant a real if limited break from First Past The Post.
In 2014, the Scottish referendum on independence set a six-month residency requirement to be allowed to vote, regardless of nationality, which disenfranchised thousands of Scots elsewhere in the UK and abroad for whom the result would have had a real impact.
In 2016, the EU referendum followed a seemingly arbitrary set of franchise rules. Neither residency or nationality but Commonwealth status was the defining factor, meaning that while approximately 3 million EU migrants were denied a voice (unless they happened to be from Malta, Ireland or Cyprus), Australians and Canadians who were resident here could vote on the Brexit question.
The only change from the rules that apply to General Elections was that the franchise was extended to members of the House of Lords and Gibraltarians. The regulations even prevented a Member of the Scottish Parliament, French national Christian Allard, from being able to vote.
If the series of hung parliaments and political turmoil of the last decade are an indictment of the inadequacies of the voting system, the Brexit vote has been a catalyst for conversations about representation, and what the electorate is and should be.
For many migrants like myself, there’s a contradiction between our status as residents and workers in the places we’ve chosen to live on the one hand, and our ability to enact political change and be truly represented here on the other.
Britain is our home. We have started families here, and we are affected just as much as anyone else by funding cuts to children’s centres and booming school class sizes. We work here, and despite what might be written in the press about us driving down wages, we join trade unions and organise our workplaces, fighting for better pay and working conditions for everyone in the workforce.
Like everyone else we experience the housing crisis, austerity, political problems with political solutions. We pay our taxes here, our money goes into public services – roads, libraries, parks and the NHS – and our lives are affected by their funding and quality. Many of us participate in the political process in whatever way we can, becoming members of political parties (including holding elected positions within those parties), and campaigning in elections.
Despite this, when the time comes to make big political decisions which impact on us as much as they do any other resident, we are denied a vote. Instead, migrants are treated in a far more sinister way: as a silent monolith, referred to but seldom heard, used as a scapegoat and a target. We are one of the few sections of society that can be demonised without the political establishment taking a direct hit at the ballot box.
In the long arc of history, the demands of progressive movements have always been for more democracy, not less. The demands of the Let Us Vote campaign, a campaign which launches today with the support of of Another Europe Is Possible, the3 million, and the British in Europe, are simple. We are demanding that the franchise be extended to everyone resident in the UK, regardless of their nationality or citizenship, and to allow every British person abroad to participate in the electoral process at home, should they choose to.
We are tired of being spoken about in parliament without ever being heard within it. For as long as migrants like me cannot vote, we will always be reliant on the good will of a political class who are fundamentally unaccountable to us. If the last few years tell us anything, it’s that good will is simply not enough.
It is time for the UK electorate to expand to cover the people affected by its government’s policies. Let us vote.
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