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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Record voter registration in Scotland ahead of referendum

You can vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum if you are 16 or over. Make sure you register. Click for more information. The Electoral Commission.Jean has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament celebrating the news that voter registration in Scotland is now at its highest ever figure – 4.1 million are now registered, including 92,000 16- and 17-year-olds.

Jean’s motion highlights the great work of Radical Independence, who have been canvassing and registering voters in working-class areas where both registration and turnout have historically been low, especially since 1989 when many removed themselves from voting rolls to avoid the notorious and unjust Poll Tax.

You can join in with RIC’s canvassing at upcoming events including Inverness this Saturday 5 March, East Kilbride on Sunday 6 April, and Castlemilk in Glasgow on Wednesday 16 April.

Jean also congratulates the Electoral Commission on their work to inform those from other EU citizens who are resident in Scotland of their right to vote in the referendum. They have provided Jean, as Convenor of Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, with a factsheet on the voting rights of Polish citizens in Scotland – the same rules apply to all EU citizens. The Electoral Commission also provide voting forms in English, Welsh and 14 other languages including French, Polish and Portuguese.

The motion, whose full text is below, has so far been supported by John Finnie (Ind, Highlands and Islands), Alison Johnstone (Green, Lothians), Patrick Harvie (Green, Glasgow), Bill Kidd (SNP, Glasgow Anniesland), John Mason (SNP, Glasgow Shettleston), and Kevin Stewart (SNP, Aberdeen Central). As always, if you’d like your other MSPs to support the motion, you can find and contact them at WriteToThem.com.

Motion Number: S4M-09585
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 02/04/2014

Title: Voter Registration in Scotland

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the news that the number of voters registered in Scotland is, at 4.1 million, the highest it has ever been; notes that approximately 92,000 of the 120,000 16 and 17-year olds in Scotland have added their names to the electoral roll; reaffirms its support for extending the franchise for the independence referendum to 16 and 17-year olds; believes that a high electoral turnout across all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and social classes is of paramount importance; cautions that there is still progress to be made to ensure that those not currently on the electoral roll, particularly from working class areas, are registered in time to vote in the referendum; welcomes the moves taken by groups such as Radical Independence to register residents of working class areas and to provide legal advice for those who removed themselves from the electoral roll at the time of the “Poll Tax”; further welcomes the Electoral Commission’s work in engaging with citizens of other EU countries who are resident in Scotland to inform them of their voting rights, and encourages everyone, regardless of whether they intend to vote Yes, No or to spoil their ballot, to engage in the independence debate and the vote on 18 September 2014.

Motion S4M-09059: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Today, I lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament marking the publication of the most recent UN Report on the situation in North Korea. The parliamentary lexicon can make it difficult to fully describe the litany of horrors that ordinary citizens in North Korea (officially and perversely titled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) face on a daily basis. The use of sexual assault as a weapon of control by the state; the strict and long-lasting stratification of North Korean society, where a grandson or granddaughter can live out their life in a prison camp for no reason other than the identity of a grandparent; the arbitrary “justice” meted out to citizens for “crimes” such as using a newspaper with a picture of Kim Jong-il to mop up a spilt drink, or forcing new mothers, who gave birth with no medical assistance, to kill their own babies, and the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in massive, sprawling prison camps akin to those used to such devastating and evil effect by Nazi Germany are just some of the crimes against humanity detailed in the report. It is a damning condemnation of a regime without legitimacy or any semblance of humanity, and an urgent call to action to the international community, who must act to bring the perpetrators of this Hell on Earth before the International Criminal Court. The report can be accessed here and is a chilling but essential read to understand why the work of human rights organisations worldwide must continue. Amnesty International have done further research into the prison camp system in the police state of North Korea which can be accessed via this link.

My motion is below- please encourage your MSPs to sign it if they haven’t already done so. Although one motion in the Scottish Parliament will not on its own achieve change, it can add to the growing international consensus that something must be done to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people.

Motion Number: S4M-09059
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 18/02/2014

Title: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Motion Text:
That the Parliament notes the publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the UN Human Rights Council; understands that among the issues investigated by the commission of inquiry were violations of freedom of the press, expression, religion, movement and to the right to life and the country’s use of political prison camps, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances; considers that the findings, which suggest evidence of forcing mothers to commit infanticide, the widespread use of rape, sexual abuse and torture by the state and its officials and the use of intergenerational punishment. demonstrate the depravity of the North Korean regime and what it sees as that country’s blatant disregard for humanity and human rights; believes that the absolute control of the North Korean state over the lives of its citizens, the deliberate blocking of aid for ideological reasons, the cult of personality surrounding its three leaders since the Korean War and the use of political prison camps with little or no due process for prisoners plumb the depths of what human beings are capable of; supports the report’s belief that “the gravity, scale and nature” of its findings “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”; considers comparisons with Nazi Germany and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to be apposite, and calls on the international community to take action to release the North Korean people from what it sees as their nightmarish existence and to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes against humanity.