Jean Urquhart writes to PM over EU referendum franchise rules.

Today Jean Urquhart MSP has written to Prime Minister David Cameron regarding the franchise rules for the upcoming referendum. These rules see the right to vote being given to British citizens living outwith the United Kingdom, even if they have not lived in, or paid taxes in the UK for up to 15 years.  At the same time, EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom and contributing to their communities are being denied the chance to take part in this democratic process.

Jean previously wrote to the Prime Minister in an appeal to reconsider the franchise and to extend the vote to 16 & 17 year olds and EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom, this appeal was rejected with no explanation.  Today’s letter was prompted by contact from numerous constituents asking why they were being denied the right to vote.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Friday 26th February 2016

Dear Prime Minister,

Since the announcement of the EU referendum, and the confirmation of the franchise for this referendum, I am increasingly contacted by constituents asking if it is true that they will be unable to vote, and why.  These are fellow EU citizens, now resident in the United Kingdom, and I am unable to offer them a reasonable explanation as to why they have been denied the right to take part in this democratic process.

That this government seeks to extend voting privileges to expats, tabling a Votes for Life Bill to abolish the 15 year rule, yet refuses citizens living and working here in the United Kingdom the right to vote, suggests that your values are based purely on ethnicity.  It sends a message that it does not matter if you are no longer contributing to the British economy, even if you haven’t stepped foot in Britain for years, you were born here and that gives you a privilege. And to those who pay millions each year into our economy, those who fill thousands of jobs, our nurses, our teachers, our doctors – even our politicians in the case of my colleague, Christian Allard MSP – are they to be treated as lesser citizens?  Many see this rhetoric as inherently racist and archaic.

Because of our relationship with the European Union there has never been a need for EU citizens to apply for British citizenship, yet they now face discrimination because of their ethnicity.

I have written previously, on behalf of my constituents and as Convenor of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Poland, appealing for you to reconsider and amend the European Union Referendum Act.

I understand that it is now too late now to change the franchise for the upcoming referendum, but perhaps, for the sake of all those EU citizens who call the United Kingdom home, you could offer an explanation as to why you seek to alienate them from this process.

Yours faithfully,

Jean Urquhart MSP

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Press Release on the Independence White Paper

Here is a press release from me, in which I react to the Independence White Paper, which was launched by the Scottish Government on Tuesday.

“HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS MSP:  INDY WHITE PAPER PUTS SCOTLAND’S KIDS FIRST

Independent Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has congratulated the Scottish Government on the independence white paper Scotland’s Future [1], saying they are right to put Scotland’s children first with a plan to provide 1,140 hours of childcare for all three and four year-olds, and all vulnerable two-year-olds.

Ms Urquhart also pointed out that many, including herself, will have some disagreements with parts the Government’s plans – such as on NATO membership, monarchy and currency – but that independence means that decisions on these issues will be finally be in the hands of the people of Scotland to take for themselves.

Ms Urquhart said:

“Our children are, to quote the title of the white paper, Scotland’s Future. They are the reason we should want to build a better nation and they’ll also be the ones who will do much of the building. So the government are to be congratulated for making world-class childcare and early years education a top priority for an independent Scotland

“Quite unlike the direction of travel at Westminster, the white paper sets out an ambition for a more equal Scotland. Greater equality for women must be central to that, and the childcare pledge will make it much easier for mothers to continue their careers if they choose to, and to flexibly share parenting duties with fathers.

“Much progress has been made on childcare in Scotland in recent years, but we need independence to achieve this radical an expansion. That’s because it is a stimulus measure that will pay for itself in the extra tax received from women choosing to work who otherwise would not be able to – but that can only work if the revenues stay in Scotland. Control of our economy by the UK Treasury makes it impossible for Scotland to pursue forward-thinking, stimulus policies like this and ties us into the austerity death spiral.

“The white paper is only one party’s vision, but it is a vision that should inspire confidence that Scotland can and will be a successful, progressive, independent country with many options available to her. The paper itself acknowledges ‘some would prefer Scotland to become a republic, to leave the EU or NATO, or to have our own currency’ – and I would prefer all of those things. But after independence I will have a fair chance to make my case to fellow Scots, while under Westminster those decisions are not ours to take.”

ENDS

For more information or comment, please contact Gary Cocker on gary.cocker@scottish.parliament.uk or 0131 348 5053.

Notes to editors:

1. The white paper Scotland’s Future is available at http://www.scotreferendum.com/ as a PDF or eBook. Hard copies can be ordered free in the UK bye by phoning 0300 012 1809 or emailing referendumwhitepaper@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

Blog: The Real Threat to EU Membership

Scotland’s future within (or outside) the European Union (EU) has once again hit the headlines, with the Scotsman reporting that “the European Commission has written to a House of Lords committee stating that if Scots voters back independence, existing treaties which cover the UK’s EU membership willcease to apply’”. The Scotland Office is quoted in the article as saying that Scots have the right to know the full implications for Scotland if it were to “leave the UK family”.

Before we reach the meat of this topic, it’s rather disingenuous to claim that standing on your own two feet is akin to leaving a family. When our sons and daughters grow up and make decisions for themselves, it’s the mark of a developing, mature relationship, not of abandonment. An internationalist, co-operative Scotland would seek the same relationship, as is already shared with the other nations on the British Isles through the British-Irish Council.

Anyway, pedantry aside, we must remember that the Scotland Office’s argument should cut both ways. It looks likely that, regardless of who wins the next Westminster election, there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.  David Cameron, under fire from the right wing of his party and the growing prominence of UKIP, has all but promised one should the Conservatives emerge victorious; senior Labour MPs have suggested holding one and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats promised one in their 2010 manifesto.

Opinion polls consistently show that, although the small number of Scots in each survey are more evenly divided on EU membership, a strong plurality of UK voters would vote to leave the EU in a referendum.  For example, in the latest YouGov poll, this antipathy towards the EU translates into outright majorities in favour of withdrawal in the North of England and the South of England and 48% in the Midlands and Wales. This ‘cold house’ is hardly surprising, given that the UK press, whose attitudes towards Europe range from critically supportive to spluttering outrage, can hardly be described as being well-disposed towards Europe.

So, given that both major parties at Westminster would hold a referendum on EU membership after the next election and that there’s a consistent public and media majority in the UK in favour of leaving the EU, why do the No campaign continue to show their concern over Scottish EU membership? Surely it’s more at threat as part of the UK than as an independent country?

Of course, an independent Scotland would need to negotiate new terms of membership, as the Scottish Government itself says. However, it would do so from within the UK (and the EU) in the 2 years between the referendum result and the planned first elections for an independent Scottish Parliament in May 2016.

To suggest that the EU would be willing to perform an expensive and elaborate hokey-cokey, where Scotland was in, out and then in again, is ludicrous. Given the human, financial and natural resources that Scotland contributes to the EU at a time of uncertainty and financial instability across Europe, does anybody honestly expect the EU to wilfully eject a long-standing partner of almost 40 years?

Over the next 2 years, there will be attempts to obfuscate the debate by attempting to boil down 50 years of complex European treaties into doom-laden, doubt-ridden claims about Scottish membership of the EU while ignoring the very real threat posed by Westminster sabre-rattling. I hope, and believe, that the people of Scotland can see through the scaremongering and apply the common sense logic that has served us well in the past.