Let me vote: a public service announcement

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog since 2010 will probably know this, but it struck me this week that many of you don’t. So here is a public service announcement on the intersection between democracy and being an immigrant.
I appreciate that my origin and citizenship status are somewhat murky, not helped by the fact that I self-identify as European. I was born in Bulgaria, I left there when I was 10 and at the age of 16 I was granted Austrian citizenship. I have lived in the UK for 14 years now, longer than in any other country. I am still legally Austrian, and only Austrian. Austria is somewhat particular about dual nationality (basically, if you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, you’re allowed it; if you’re me the hoops are not worth jumping through). I would technically qualify for UK citizenship but I have good reasons – none of them sentimental – to hang on to my Austrian passport.
I am registered to vote in the UK, but as an EU citizen, I can only do so in local and European Parliament elections – not general elections. I can vote in general elections in Austria but I never have. By the time the first elections after my 18th birthday [1] came around I had left the country and was reasonably sure I wasn’t going back.
Here’s what I am allowed to do in the UK: I’m allowed to pay tax. Quite a lot of it. [2] I am, in all fairness, allowed to be mouthy and obnoxious about being an immigrant, sometimes even in the national press. I am allowed to ruin a good pair of shoes in aid of a national referendum campaign. But I’m not allowed to vote in said referendum. I am allowed to be blamed for every single failure of this government. But I don’t have a say in who forms the next one.
This is where Let Me Vote comes in. Let Me Vote is a European Citizens’ Initiative – if it manages to collect 1,000,000 signatures from EU citizens, the European Commission will at least have to think about putting forward legislation to allow EU citizens resident in other EU countries to vote in their country of residence. It would remove one more of the millions of barriers to the free movement of people within the Union. It would mean that we would no longer be second-class people the minute we set foot outside our country of citizenship – at least politically. It would mean that when your Mum and Dad retire to Spain or Bulgaria, they would have a political say in what happens around them.
If you’re worried about immigrants voting in your country, remember that Commonwealth citizens are already allowed to vote in general elections in the UK. Also remember that lots of British people move abroad, and after 15 years they lose the right to vote in the UK, leaving them in a strange kind of political purgatory where there is nowhere for them to exercise their democratic rights. Remember that even if you reduce the European Union to its economic basics, the Common Market is still about the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.
So head over to Let Me Vote and sign the ECI.

[1] Austria lowered the voting age to 16 in 2007.

[2] Note that I don’t think my tax payer status entitles me to anything. But with the amount of immigrant scapegoating in British political rhetoric, it’s become a reflex to point it out.

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