Saturday, June 4, 2016

But I don't have a vote

I’m 50, carry a British passport (of which I’m quite rightly proud), grew up in a modestly small village in the Cheshire heartland and, having lived longer overseas than the rules allow, do not have a vote in the upcoming European referendum. I paid my taxes when I worked in the UK and I’ve paid my taxes in my host country where I have chosen to make a life, and I don’t have a vote here either. The islands where I was born have seen the comings and going of Romans, Vikings, French (though arguably these particular French were also Vikings) and swathes of nationalities over the centuries. It built an empire, which had it’s down sides, but also brought the rule of law, education, democracy, and eventually (though with a little kicking and screaming) universal suffrage. It also brought an industrial revolution, calculus, the computer and in the last two decades, the most important creation to have emerged in my lifetime, the World Wide Web. Which, by the way, a citizen of the United Kingdom gave away for free, simply saying "it belongs to everyone”. 

We created the London Olympics and James Bond, we built a political system modelled around the world, have healthy children and we don’t shoot each other. I was brought up with the concept that you haven’t failed until you give up and my grandparents' generation paid that price. And how the world would be different today if they hadn’t. And when I was young, this country took another step to join a union that has brought peace and prosperity to the continent for decades. A continent where it admittedly sits on the outskirts, geographically and arguably politically. This club allows freedom of movement, a guarantee of human rights (whether you want them or not) and the ability to work and live in a populace of more than 500 million people. And I don’t have a vote. 

So lets say I’ve had neutrality impressed upon me. That’s life and I accept the rules of the country of my ancestors. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. Everyone over the age of 65 will probably not live to see the implications of an “Exit” vote. Their choice is not for themselves, it’s for their children and more importantly, their disenfranchised grandchildren. Their exit vote will strip their loved ones of the right to live, love and experience the vast majority of the continent of Europe, its people, cultures and creations. They can holiday in Barcelona but can no longer, by right, live in Valencia. Their votes will not bring back the “Great” in Great Britain, it was never lost. We still invented the jet engine, cricket, graphene and steam power. And despite it having been a little while since we won at football, we still have the best and most entertaining soccer league in the world (oh come on, don't even try arguing). 

By joining the European Union, the United Kingdom lost none of these things and is a member of club of which it should be proud; it shaped it, and at one time saved it. But I don’t have a vote. And my son doesn’t have a vote. And if my country votes to leave, he will have, for some inexplicable reason, lost the right to live in the countries and cultures of Europe, something remarkable that he has yet to truly enjoy. And it’s a decision in which he has had no say or choice. A vote to stay, like it or not, is not a curse, it’s a gift to our children. And to theirs in turn. For a seventeen year old, living in a globally integrated society, joined by the common platform of the English Language, why anyone would want to lock the exits and throw away the key is simply incomprehensible. The drawbridge is down, and has been for 2000 years since the Romans came over to build straight roads and the odd wall here and there. I may not have a ballot paper, but I do have an opinion and if it changes the vote of just one person, then I guess I had a vote after all. Please share.

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