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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“We Poles are a freedom loving nation.”

Polish-Scot actor Tomek Borkowy
Actor Tomek Borkowy is urging fellow Poles to vote Yes on 18 September.
Jean has welcomed Polish-Scottish actor Tomek Borkowy’s announcement that he will be voting Yes in the independence referendum. Tomek is a household name in Poland, as the star of the hugely popular drama series Dom (“Home”), which ran for twenty years from 1980 to 2000. He first came to the UK in 1977, unable to speak English, and is now a British citizen and runs Edinburgh-based international performing arts agency Universal Arts.

Tomek said:

“A Yes vote is a vote for the new opportunities for all people in Scotland, but especially for Poles, who left their country because they felt marginalised by Polish politics and politicians. A lot of us have succeeded here and many more will. Scotland gave us an opportunity, and we will repay our debt.

“I will vote Yes because I strongly believe that this is the best deal for the people. We Poles are a freedom loving nation. Only 25 years ago we reclaimed our full independence. We understand the need of a nation for self-determination and most of us, I hope, will support it.

“Scotland has more economic potential than most European countries which regained their independence in the last quarter of a century and I urge all of my countrymen to vote Yes and be involved in the social, cultural and political life of our adopted country.

“Unlike the rest of the UK, which persistently is more inward looking, Scottish parties supporting independence are outward thinking. Scottish independence will open more self-development opportunities for Poles and the prospect of a balanced and enhanced life for them and for their children.”

Jean is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Groups on Poland and Culture. She said:

“I’m really delighted that Tomek will be voting for independence in September. The Polish community has contributed so much to Scotland, and should grab this opportunity to shape our shared future with both hands. They’ve more than earned it.

“I am proud that Scotland has a good record of welcoming not just Poles, but generations of New Scots from every corner of the globe, in contrast to the UK establishment’s increasingly xenophobic rhetoric. The chance to build a country of mutual respect and friendship, not fear and loathing, is one of the great prizes of independence.

“As Scotland considers our constitutional future, we have much to learn from Poland’s example. The 1791 Constitution of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the first in the world to recognise the people as sovereign, and we can take heart from Poland’s centuries-long but successful struggle for independence, first from occupation and latterly from Soviet domination.

“As Tomek says, the Polish people know more than most the value of freedom. I am so proud to work with the Polish community in Parliament, and will be even more proud to celebrate with them on the 19th of September.”

The Electoral Commission have provided Jean, as Convenor of the CPG on Poland, with a factsheet on the voting rights of Polish citizens in Scotland – like all EU citizens, Poles have the right to vote in the referendum as well as in the European Parliament election on 22 May, Scottish Parliament elections and local government elections.

Everything you need to register to vote is available at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

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.

The Week Ahead (20th January-26th January)

Tuesday
On Tuesday morning Jean will be working in her parliamentary office, holding her usual weekly meeting with staff. In the afternoon Jean will be meeting with representatives from Ofgem, before Jean attending a CPG Poland meeting and a reception for Abellio, one of the companies currently bidding for the Scotrail franchise, in the evening. Later on Jean will be attending a ‘Walk the Walk’ Dinner. This event will assist Walk the Walk identify areas of investment and to consider how Walk the Walk can make a difference in Scotland.

Wednesday
Jean will be taking part in the Finance Committee in the Parliament on Wednesday morning. In the afternoon she will be asking a question about what the timescale will be for the introduction of areas of natural restraint to replace less favoured ones during the debate about rural affairs. Following this debate Jean will be meeting with representatives from The Crown Estate. For the rest of the afternoon, Jean will be in the Chamber for the Budget Debate before attending the cross party group on Palestine, which will be discussing the film ‘Children in Chains’ by Jonathon Pullman about the abuse of Palestinian children in the Israeli Military Court System.

Thursday
Jean will be attending a breakfast reception at Dynamic Earth. The Scottish Contractor’s Group (SCG) is launching its Creating Scotland’s Future Campaign. The campaign highlights the benefits to the Scottish economy of investing in construction, and the work and training opportunities local projects can create. At noon, Jean will be attending First Minister’s Questions in the Chamber. In the afternoon Jean will be working in her parliamentary office. Jean will then be travelling through to Glasgow to speak at the opening of the Gaelic and Scots showcase at the Lomond Foyer, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. This event is part of the Celtic Connections Festival which takes place in Glasgow.

The Week Ahead (18th-24th November)

This week began at Parliament on Monday with the Scottish Futures forum on Workforce Development work-streams, which took up a large part of my day.  I spent the remainder of the day at Parliament engaged in email correspondence with constituents, as well as various administrative tasks.

On Tuesday, I began with some of my fixed engagements, including my team meeting in the morning.  Due to the sad passing of my colleague Helen Eadie MSP, there is no parliamentary business in the afternoon, and my thoughts will be with Helen’s family and friends.

Wednesday morning will be occupied by the Finance Committee, followed by a seminar for teachers on teaching about the Scottish Parliament.  Afterwards, I have an interview with the Fostering Network, followed by a meeting with the Polish Ambassador.  My final engagement is in the evening, at the Scottish IMPACT Award winner’s celebration.

On Thursday morning, I have a meeting with Energy North.  At 12PM, I’ll attend First Minister’s Questions, and straight after I’ll go to an event organised by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs.  I have some more meetings during the rest of the afternoon and then I’ll attend an evening session of the Business in the Parliament Conference.

Friday will see me in Glasgow at a Scottish Refugee Council arts event entitled ‘A View from Here’, of which I will take a great interest in as Convener of the Parliamentary Cross Party Group on Culture.

Motion: S4M-07857: Scotland’s Growing Diversity and the 2011 Census

I lodged the motion below last week following the most recent release of the 2011 census breakdown.

That the Parliament welcomes the recently released findings from the 2011 Census, which show that Scotland is now more ethnically diverse than it has ever been; further welcomes that Scotland’s ethnic minority population doubled from 2% in 2001 to 4% in 2011; notes from the findings that people from ethnic minorities represented 12% of the population of Glasgow, 8% in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and 6% in Dundee in 2011; notes, in particular, the increased presence of the Polish community in Scotland, which now numbers 61,201 people, or 1.2% of the Scottish population; considers the growing multitude of religious and ethnic backgrounds present in Scotland to be a positive development; believes that immigration has been of great benefit to Scotland’s economy, society and understanding of the world, and looks forward to future releases of Scotland’s census data in the coming months.

Holyrood celebrates Polish Constitution Day

Jean has tabled the Scottish Parliament’s first ever motion celebrating Polish Constitution Day. Already, 17 fellow MSPs from around the country have signed up to support the message of friendship between Scotland and Poland.

Polish Constitution Day is tomorrow, May 3rd, and commemorates the adoption of the Polish constitution of the 3rd of May 1791, seen by historians as the first modern, codified constitution in Europe and the second in the world.

Jean’s motion looks forward to and independent Scotland learning from Poland’s example and adopting a written constitution as innovative today as Poland’s was, 222 years ago.

Jean said:

“There is a long history of friendship between Scotland and Poland, from the Scots who migrated to Poland in the 17th Century, to the Polish sailors, soldiers and airmen that defended Scotland in WWII. Today the Polish community plays a huge part in our country’s economic and cultural success, particularly in the Highlands.

“As we consider our own constitutional future, we have so much to learn from Poland’s example. The 1791 Constitution that we celebrate on 3 May was one of the first to recognise the people as sovereign, and we can take heart from Poland’s centuries-long but successful struggle for independence, first from occupation and latterly from Soviet domination.

“It’s an honour to be the first MSP to formally recognise this day of joy for the Polish community, and the great contribution these new Scots make all year round.”

The motion is titled “Recognition of Poland’s 3 May Constitution Day,” and reads:

“That the Parliament notes that Poland’s Constitution Day celebrations are held on 3 May; notes that Constitution Day was the first holiday introduced following Poland’s restoration as an independent country in 1919; recognises the cultural importance of Poland’s Constitution Day to the Polish communities of Scotland; understands that Polish communities globally commemorate the holiday in a variety of ways, including parades and town prayers; notes what it sees as the historical significance of the signing of the country’s constitution on 3 May 1791, considered by historians to be the first of its kind in Europe; welcomes what it considers the continuing bonds of friendship between Poland and Scotland, and looks forward to what it hopes will be Scotland celebrating its own constitution day after the proposed adoption of a written constitution in an independent country.”

Speech: Great Polish Map of Scotland

I would like to congratulate my colleague Christine Grahame on bringing this debate to the floor- timely, I believe, as it was announced on Monday that the Great Polish Map has been awarded listed status. It is undoubtedly worthy of protection, and I am delighted that future generations will be able to admire the attention to detail of this unique structure. The use of gravity-driven water to recreate our rivers and lochs is truly magnificent,

I am sure that those speaking this evening will all concur with the historic importance of the map, not only as a feat of architecture and a reminder of the sacrifices made by Polish soldiers during World War II, but also as a symbol of the long-standing links between Poland and Scotland forged in that era that have remained strong ever since.

It is this connection that has continued to this very day that I wish to concentrate on. While all of Scotland has benefited from its special relationship with Poland- I think particularly of the Polish food shops that can be found in any city across Scotland, and the dedication of our supermarkets to providing Polish produce- the Highlands and Islands in particular has attracted a large number of Poles.  

As late as 2004, the Highlands and Islands were threatened with yet further depopulation. However, this has dramatically changed, with Inverness still one of the Europe’s fastest growing cities, a growth that is concurrent with economic regeneration and attributable in part to its active, dynamic Polish community, forming roughly 10% of the population of the city. Across the Highlands and Islands, approximately 69% of all immigrants come from Poland, showing the strong ties that exist between our two nations. The mutual benefit of these ties is evident; they contribute hugely to civic life in Inverness and the surrounding region, and I was privileged to have the chance to recognise this by inviting along Zosia Fraser. Chair of the Polish Association, as my “local hero” for the opening of Parliament last summer. Among other activities, Zosia has organised translation services, accommodation and put in place other measures to help new arrivals to the early to settle and to truly become part of the local community.

Zosia is typical of the Polish community in Scotland in contributing so much to our society. I’m sure all of us in this chamber recognise the value to future generations of growing up in towns, cities and villages where many cultures are known and celebrated, where an awareness of our place in the world and that of others helps to inculcate a sense of internationalism and global citizenry- a sense, I am sure, will be all the more beneficial when Scotland regains its place among the community of nations.

In closing, Presiding Officer, I would like to once again welcome the continuing restoration of the Map, and support this motion.