As a European married to an English husband, as a mother, a taxpayer, a resident in Britain for 19 years, IF supporter Ana Sofía de la Quintana is horrified by the result of the EU referendum – in which she was not even allowed to vote. Contributing to our ongoing “Vox Pop” series, she explains why this raises fundamental questions about democracy, as well as about the future of our children
I am completely gutted about the results of the EU Referendum. And as an EU citizen I could not vote.
I arrived in Belfast in 1997 on my way to any country other than Spain. I needed to learn English if I wanted to get a good actuarial job. For one reason or another, and finally love, I remained in the UK. However, after 19 years of living and paying taxes in the UK, and despite being registered here to vote in EU parliamentary elections, I was still not eligible to vote in the EU Referendum 2016. Don’t ask me why. I looked into it when the voting papers arrived for my husband and not for me. I was surprised to find out that Commonwealth people were allowed to vote but not us.
Much has been said about the result of the referendum. Whether people understood what they were voting for or the actual consequences of the result. But the truth is that it was not democratic. To be democratic it should include all the common people (“demos”) and it missed a few million of them.
When I’ve told my British friends that I thought the fact that EU nationals could not vote was unfair they sounded surprised. Not because they thought it was fair, but because they had no idea we could not vote. It did not make sense even to them. Yet a few told me those were the rules and that I should not vote as I was not British.
I hate nationalisms. I was born in the Basque Country in the 70s. I was told from an early age I had to choose between being Basque and being Spanish. If I was Basque I had to hate Spain. Yet, having spent my summer holidays in La Rioja, south of the Basque Country, I could not hate Spain.
I draw the map of my country and my map is completely different to anyone else’s. I will not let some borders, a piece of paper or a political party decide what I should or should not love. The map of my country includes parts of the Basque Country, parts of Spain, and a large part of England.
London will be my home until the day I die. It is the place where I’ve had the best years of my life. The place where I developed as a professional and as an adult. The city where I met my husband and I raised my children. The first thing Spaniards think when they arrive in London is: gosh, you could wear a pumpkin on your head and no one would give you a second look! It is a place where creative people thrive, where culture is intoxicating. Where being gay, or a foreigner, or religious or not, or of a different race does not matter. Or at least it matters a hell of a lot less than anywhere else.
I came here escaping from Basque xenophobic, narrow-minded, provincial politics. Knowing that the whole of the world was a lot more interesting than just one of its parts. I hope xenophobic politics do not ruin London. I don’t know where we, not-so-normal-any-more, accepting, open-minded people are going to go.
One wonders who set the rules for the referendum. Why were EU nationals not eligible to vote, why weren’t young people more encouraged to vote if it mattered so much?
From an intergenerational point of view, most of these EU nationals are young, and are or will be the parents of many British young people. Their children will be lucky in that they will have both British and EU passports; however, the country they will inherit may not be as open, inclusive and possibly as prosperous as the one they were born in.
Hopefully some good things will come out of this. Young people may realise how important it is to vote. They may realise the actual impact it has on their lives.
But the lesson for me is as follows: do not resign yourself to being a second-class citizen just because you don’t live in your country of birth, just because you wanted to travel and experience the world you live in to the full. All foreigners should embrace the country they live in. We should make it ours. The UK is my country and I should be able to have a say in what happens to it. I would demand the same for those who live in Spain and love the country they live in.