Jean demands referendum votes for EU citizens

Jean Urquhart has written to the Prime Minister to demand that European Union citizens resident in the UK are permitted to vote in the forthcoming referendum on membership of the EU.

Jean was writing on behalf of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, of which she’s the Convenor.

In her letter, Jean says that the proposed voting restrictions were “seen to be discriminatory” by the Cross-Party Group, and were “extraordinary” in the context of recent participation by Polish Scots in the independence referendum. The full text of the letter is below.

She wrote that it was “absurd that … Poles and other EU citizens were able to vote on the biggest constitutional issue facing Scotland and the UK since 1707 but are being denied the right to determine another constitutional question just a matter of months later.”

Jean said:

“We are proud that citizens of every EU nation have chosen to make Scotland their home. A Scot from Warsaw is just as much a part of our community and our country as one from Wishaw, and we all have a right to our say on Scotland’s future in Europe.

“The Conservative government’s plan to deny EU citizens a vote in the referendum smacks of the same kind of xenophobic nationalism that inspired their referendum pledge in the first place.

“It is ironic that the Conservatives used scare stories about EU membership to try to persuade EU Scots to vote No just a few months ago, but now want to prevent the very same voters from having a direct say on the very same issue.

Ms Urquhart also urged the Prime Minister to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote on the issue:

“16- and 17-year-olds proved during the referendum that they can engage with big political issues with intelligence and enthusiasm. Next week, they will finally get the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local council elections. There’s no longer any excuse for refusing 16- and 17-year-olds full voting rights.

“Our future in Europe is a decision for the whole country. I’m calling on David Cameron to amend the EU Referendum Bill to recognise the right of 16- and 17-year olds and UK-resident EU citizens to be part of that decision.”

Jean’s letter to the Prime Minister:

Dear Mr Cameron,

European Union Membership Referendum

I am writing on behalf of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Poland, which I convene, regarding the recently announced voting criteria for the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Members of the CPG are dismayed by the decision to restrict voting to only those who would qualify to vote in UK Parliamentary elections. The membership of the group is diverse – it includes not only Polish nationals, but the descendants of Polish nationals and other individuals who have an active interest in Poland – but the proposals have outraged the group.

The proposal to adopt the same rules for voting in the EU Referendum to those used for UK Parliamentary elections are seen to be discriminatory. There are thousands of people who are resident and paying taxes in this country who will be denied their right to determine the future of the country they live in – it’s the worst possible demonstration of ‘taxation without representation’, something which has no place in a modern Britain.

The referendum is, crucially, not the same as a UK Parliamentary election and as such, there is no precedent for restricting voting in this way. It is a unique opportunity for the people who live – and pay tax – in the UK to make a collective and direct decision about the UK’s future in Europe. Why would you deny European Union citizens the right to vote on the future of their country of residence, especially when it has a direct impact on their home country and their own residential status? Especially when one considers that EU citizens can vote in Britain in EU elections, but are now being denied a say on the future of that very institution.

In a Scottish context, the proposal is extraordinary given that EU citizens were able to vote in last year’s referendum. It seems to the group that it is absurd that many of the members – and of course many other Poles and other EU citizens – were able to vote on the biggest constitutional issue facing Scotland and the UK since 1707 but are being denied the right to determine another constitutional question just a matter of months later.

We write to urge you, and the members of your Cabinet, to rethink the voting strategy. Excluding EU citizens from this vote fails to recognise not only the diversity of the British population, but also the contribution EU tax payers make to our economy. It flies in the face of recent precedent on the determination of constitutional issues and ignores the fundamental right of a taxpayer to have a right to be represented within a democracy.

We hope that you will reconsider your position on this matter and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Urquhart MSP

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Letter in the Guardian: Labour rights are the key to sex workers’ safety

Jean’s letter in the Guardian newspaper last week, responding to the campaign to criminalise the purchase of sex, a move which sex workers say would make them less safe:

Former police officer Alan Caton celebrates the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland and suggests that crackdowns make sex workers safer (Letters, 1 June). However, sex workers themselves tell us the exact opposite. When the highly successful tolerance zones for street prostitution were abolished in Edinburgh, for example, sex workers reported a 95% increase in violence over 12 months.

Mr Caton further proposes criminalisation of clients as a solution to trafficking; it is hard to understand how he believes threatening the key witnesses to trafficking and coercion – the clients – with a sex-crime record if they come forward would help with investigating and prosecuting this awful crime.

There is little evidence that the criminalisation of clients even achieves its proponents’ aim of reducing demand for sex work. Following criminalisation in Sweden, police themselves have observed a sharp increase in massage parlours in Stockholm – from 90 in 2009 to 250 in 2013.

What sex workers tell us would actually protect them would be to ensure their labour rights, including the right to work in a shared premises, to eliminate stigma and discrimination against sex workers, and to decriminalise sex work.

Jean Urquhart MSP
Independent, Highlands and Islands

To find out more about issues affecting sex workers and read sex workers’ own views, visit SCOT-PEP and the Sex Worker Open University.

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy with Jean Urquhart (2nd from right) at Ullapool Primary School, 1983
Charles Kennedy with Jean Urquhart (2nd from right) at Ullapool Primary School, 1983

I was so sad to learn of the death of Charles Kennedy this morning. Immediately I thought back to the general election of 1983 and his surprise victory over Conservative and Unionist MP, Hamish Gray, to the electors’ delight it has to be said. I did stand against him myself in the 2001 General Election and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There was genuine camaraderie with all of the candidates, and little or none of the party political dislike or outright hatred that happened in some parts; maybe it was a Highlands and Islands thing. Whatever, I’m sure the other candidates would agree, Charlie was a pleasure to oppose!

Charles Kennedy at Ullapool Primary School, 1983
A very early public engagement for the new MP in 1983 was formally opening and speaking at an exhibition about educational opportunities held in Ullapool Primary School. The photographs remind us of how young he was; memory recalls how passionate about education he was.

Charlie belonged to the West Highlands and for many years the West Highlands belonged to him.

When the symptoms of his illness became more and more overt, most folk understood and recognised the problem; it never diminished their like of Charlie Kennedy, the man. His premature death will be felt by many and all of our sympathy is with his family for whom this will be especially hard to bear.