Viewpoint: Contempt for EU citizens

Hans J Marter

IT WILL come as no big surprise to anyone that I am horrified at the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union following Thursday’s referendum, writes Hans J Marter.

Over recent weeks we have heard a lot about the “undemocratic” decision-making process within the EU and how life will be so much better once the UK has fully regained control of its own affairs.

Let’s have a closer look at those democratic credentials: to do so we don’t have to look any further than who actually is allowed to vote in this referendum.

When voters go to the polls on Thursday those who are likely to be most affected by a vote to leave the EU are barred from taking part in the ballot.

That quite clearly demonstrates not only disregard for democratic principles but also contempt for the three million EU migrants working and live here, paying their taxes and creating jobs.

As it stands, the only EU citizens allowed to vote in this referendum are those from Cyprus and Malta (as members of the Commonwealth) and from the Republic of Ireland.

All the others are excluded, while citizens from Commonwealth countries – as well as from British oversea territories living in the UK – are included.

None of this gives much faith in the democratic future of the UK outside the EU, and that’s without even mentioning the shockingly xenophobic tone of the whole campaign.

It is high time to welcome immigration, regard it as an opportunity for future growth and diversity, and to acknowledge the contributions immigrants, and not just those from the EU, make to this society.

Do you think I am alone with this position? Not at all! I spent the last weeks gathering reactions from elected politicians and local campaigners.

And, to my surprise, they all agreed, even those from the Conservatives and the Leave campaign. Here is what they had to say:

Douglas Ross, newly elected Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands: “I’m afraid I can’t justify it as I agree with what you are saying. Similarly I think if 16 and 17 year olds can vote in a Scottish election they should have been allowed to vote in this referendum as well.”

Brian Nugent of Scotland Leave Left: “EU nationals living, working and paying taxes in the UK are, I feel, entitled to a vote in this referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

“However, who votes on Thursday is a matter for Westminster as it is a UK wide referendum. I would suggest that Westminster is not as progressive as Holyrood on many voting issues.”

While in Shetland at the weekend, newly elected SNP list MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Maree Todd, described the situation as an “affront to democracy”.

Her Green colleague John Finnie, meanwhile, had this to say: “The UK Government’s insistence on denying our EU citizens their democratic right smacks of the same kind of xenophobia that inspired their referendum pledge in the first place, and that is now the only thing powering the Brexit campaign now that its economic claims have fallen flat.”

And the isles’ Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael even questioned the legitimacy of the referendum with so many people excluded from participating.

He added: “That EU citizens living in the UK and working here will be affected by the outcome of the EU referendum is beyond dispute.

“It is inexcusable that they should be denied a vote in this. This involves that most basic of principles – the link between taxation and representation.”

So why not apply for citizenship and become eligible to vote that way? Well, I would rather not become the citizen of a country that otherwise denies us a fundamental democratic right.

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