You can vote in this referendum if you are registered to vote in the UK, are 18 or over on 23 June 2016 and are:
- A British or Irish citizen living in the UK, or
- A Commonwealth citizen living in the UK who has leave to remain in the UK or who does not require leave to remain in the UK
- A British citizen living overseas who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years
- An Irish citizen living overseas who was born in Northern Ireland and who has been registered to vote in Northern Ireland in the last 15 years
If you are an EU citizen you are not eligible to vote in the EU Referendum, unless you meet the criteria above.
– from About My Vote
I remember us independence supporters being told, ordered, demanded, to “respect the result” of the referendum. It was, after all, the democratic mandate of the people of Scotland, the greatest engagement of the electorate since universal suffrage, the highest turnout of any plebiscite on these isles. There’s little else we could do – little else we could conceive of doing – since it essentially proved the point pro-independence Scots have been striving to make for decades. That is, that the people best served to decide what happens in Scotland are the people of Scotland. We may not have agreed with the results, but if there was a silver lining to pro-independence supporters, it’s that the precedent has been set – the only people who could secure or prevent independence are the people of Scotland themselves.
This referendum, though – the European Union referendum – is a different matter. Why should we respect it, when everything about it is so unworthy of respect?
Trust me, I have bucketfuls of sympathy for the people of England and Wales who campaigned for Remain. I know exactly how you’re feeling right now: exhausted, furious, devastated. With your emotions so high, it’s easy to curse democracy itself, blaming the grey vote, ignorance, lies, and so forth for the result. We hear stories from Leave voters who now bitterly regret their decision. Calls for everything from a second referendum, a Parliamentary vote, even a legal challenge have been making the rounds.
The obvious response is that any attempt to usurp this referendum would be viewed as a betrayal of the democratic mandate of the people of England and Wales. Even if one considers 51.83% too small a margin, the fact remains that 17,410,742 people – 1,269,501 more than those who voted to Remain – is a greater mandate than any government in UK history. 50%+1 may be a small majority, but in a binary equation, it is a majority nonetheless.
Even if I ultimately think that the people of England and Wales must face the consequences of their decision just as we in Scotland did in ours, that is where any similarities between this referendum and 2014’s ends. Despite attempts to suggest that the Scottish Independence Referendum and the European Union Referendum were remotely comparable in terms of climate and resentment, it’s clear that there are three major reasons I have much greater difficulty accepting the result of the referendum – and despite the fascism-signalling among the victors of this referendum, it has everything to do with democracy and representation. Specifically, the matter of disenfranchisement – something the UK has form in.
First of all is the inclusion of UK citizens not currently resident in the UK, who have registered to vote within the past 15 years. The logic goes that this decision affects people of the UK abroad, so they should have a say in what happens. It sounds reasonable – but then, in this interconnected world, it’s easy to say that all decisions made by neighbouring countries would affect us. We shouldn’t have any say in US, Chinese, or European elections or referendums, after all, even if they are our largest export markets, and thus directly impact on our economy. In the Scottish referendum, only people residing in Scotland could vote: I think that was the correct choice to make.
The second is the exclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. I understand England & Wales being a bit behind on Scotland considering their respective governments, and acknowledge that 18 is still the norm for most countries. Nonetheless, the Crown dependences of the Isle of Man, Guernsey, & Jersey lowered their voting age, as well as the formerly British Malta: why would English & Welsh 16-17 year olds be incapable of what Manx teens are permitted to do? Austria was the first European Union member state to lower the voting age to 16, as well as several German lander and Swiss cantons in local elections. Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, & Nicaragua allow voluntary enrolment for 16-17 year olds. What’s more, East Timor, Ethiopia, Indonesia, North Korea(!), South Sudan, & Sudan have the voting age at 17. And considering what you can do at age 16 in the UK, being unable to vote seems particularly unfair.
The third, and most unforgivable, is the exclusion of EU nationals – the people who are going to be most affected by this, yet denied a voice in this referendum. This is why I have such little respect for the outcome of this referendum – because it is based upon a mockery of a franchise. How could you possibly justify granting a person born in Britain who hasn’t lived here for up to 15 years the right to vote, yet not an EU national who’s lived & worked here most of their life? There are approximately 2 million EU Nationals currently working throughout the UK; polls suggest that 82% of 16-17 year olds would have voted Remain. It’s especially galling when you consider that a primary reason so many in England & Wales voted Leave in the first place was because they were fed up of the sense of powerlessness & disillusionment with the UK political system. It’s hard to argue with the sentiment, if not the target for it.
Combine that with the shambolic registration problems, the horrendous floods in several parts of England, the woeful quality of the UK Remain campaign, the Prime Minister’s refusal to pit his party members against each other in debates, and the fact this referendum took place barely over a month after the Scottish Parliament, Northern Irish & Welsh Assembly, & English local elections (I, and every other campaigner I knew, was utterly exhausted getting our candidates into Holyrood) and you have to wonder how the result would have gone if the franchise was altered to reflect the Scottish Independence referendum. Add 16-17-year-olds & EU Nationals, & the result could well have been different.
Now, this does not mean I think the referendum result should be overturned: I think First Past the Post is a terrible way to elect governments, but I’m not calling to reverse last year’s results on that particular basis. The referendum must be acknowledged, and acted upon accordingly. The UK Government made their bed, and they have to lie in it: similarly, the people of England and Wales allow this to happen, just as we in Scotland allowed the Other Party to waste our wealth, our time, and our very livelihoods for decades. I will recognise the result, certainly – but there’s no way I’m going to respect it.
The European Union Referendum should serve as a warning to all nations: disenfranchisement for the sake of appeasing your party is bad for you, bad for the people, and bad for democracy itself. Our foolish Prime Minister repeated exactly the same mistakes as in the Scottish Referendum, but didn’t understand that he had nothing like the head start here that he did in 2012. The UK Government effectively gerrymandered the vote, in Leave’s favour, simply to placate the Eurosceptics in their party.
So no, I will not respect this referendum any more than I respected the UK campaign, or the parties, or the journey leading to the vote. It is not deserving of respect: it is deserving of contempt, regret, and anger. Yet that is exactly why the vote should be carried out: to remind people that democracy is sometimes about the freedom to make the wrong choice – and learn from that mistake. That’s what I learned from the independence referendum, after all: even if I always thought a No vote was a mistake, in retrospect, I realise that some people simply had to see what a No vote would look like before they could commit to Yes. One last chance for the Union to prove itself. That support for independence has grown in less than two years following that vote – despite the oil, despite the promises, despite the scaremongering – says all that needs to be said.
The people of England and Wales made their choice, and they have to live with it. I wish them well. So did the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland. What are we going to do about it? When it came to this vote, England & Wales, and to an extent even Northern Ireland, were divided. Scotland was not – the same nation that granted 16-17-year-olds and EU nationals the opportunity to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum. For the first time in Scotland’s history, every single Council Area voted the same way – all but one voting by a greater majority than the UK average, and all but two by a greater majority than the English average. Not even the astounding 2015 General Election did that, even if the SNP came within only a few thousand votes of achieving it.
Scotland is not a divided nation. Not any more.