It goes without saying that you can file this under “These thoughts are my own thoughts and do not reflect the views of any organisations I work for.”
But that isn’t what has made me so angry this weekend.
My wife is originally from Finland has lived here for nine-and-a-half years. This country has treated her, and our relationship, incredibly well. On Saturday, about half-an-hour after the date for the referendum was announced, we found out something via BBC News that was quite incredible:
“British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years. Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be eligible, unlike in a general election. Citizens from EU countries – apart from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – will not get a vote.”
If you have spent more than 15 years living abroad as a UK national, or, like my wife, happen to be an EU citizen who is a UK resident (pays taxes, votes in local elections, etc.), you have no say at all in any of this.
It’s not just my wife though – a few of my friends are in the same boat and are currently trying to figure out what leaving the EU would mean for their access to healthcare, working rights and so on. There are stories I’ve heard and read online of people looking to get UK citizenship as soon as they can in order to safeguard their rights, just in case the UK leaves the EU, even though it will cost at least £1,000 to do so. It’s as heartbreaking as it is staggering.
There is a great deal of uncertainty, especially when the whole premise behind voting to exit the EU seems to be based on: “well, let’s see what happens, shall we?” There’s literally no plan in place. Life in the UK could get needlessly complicated for a large group of people. And all because of what? Because some minister honestly believe it somehow makes us more of a target for terrorist attacks?
Which brings me onto the scaremongering and the painfully inaccurate narrative that’s about to play out. There will be scare stories, as there are in any political campaign, that have no basis in fact or will be based on facts that are bent carefully to fit their cause. We have as much of a duty to call people out on this as much as the media does. However, the media should also be taken to task when it reports on stuff that is trivial and meaningless in the context of the referendum. I don’t care about the bickering between politicians who happen to belong to the same political party. I don’t give a toss about the personal rivalries between politicians. I care about the people who are going to be directly affected by this referendum and what it means to them. The question should be “What are the facts behind this?” and not “What does Politician X make of Politician Y’s remark?” No one cares.
There are a lot of people who don’t realise how much of an impact this could have. This will affect people who have set up successful businesses, work in the emergency services, teach at schools and colleges and universities, prospective university students, families…it’s a long list. For this referendum to be taken seriously, aside from actually allowing people who would be affected the most the right to vote, we need to put aside the bickering and scaremongering and trolling. We need to actually focus on what all of this means for our society. For all of us.
It’s wishful thinking, at least.
Further reading: This fantastic Guardian article from August 2015 shines a light on some of the concerns that UK expats have about the upcoming referendum. If you really want to get a grasp of the potential ramifications of this vote, it’s essential reading.