The UK Vote and Dual Citizenship: Do I Vote?

Published Categorised as Personal
Westminster UK Parliament, showing the tower against clouds with sun throwing the tower and Parliament into shadow.

This year, for the first time, overseas British citizens can vote in the UK election, which means I, a dual Canadian-British citizen can vote in a UK general election, which I’d never considered possible before and has sent me into a bit of a tizzy.

I have a decision to make.

Is it OK for me to vote, having not lived there?

Why do I want to vote?

As I considered this question, asking what Brits on Bluesky thought, I was unprepared for the emotional wallop. Up surfaced memories of Mum and Dad telling me we’re all becoming Canadian citizens and me having a chat with myself about it. You’re going to be a Canadian, Shireen. This is your home, now; we’re not moving again. Yeah, rather precocious for a 10-year-old, but I held those kinds of chats with myself since we’d emigrated to Canada from India via England. I’m a British citizen by birth.

My Bluesky peeps focused my thoughts:

  • Why would I vote here?
  • Having the right to vote is a good enough reason to vote.
  • Don’t give up the rights gained through much spilled blood, else those in power will take advantage.
  • If one doesn’t live there, one doesn’t have the right, morally speaking.

Hmmm. Identity, rights, and morals.

Ramryge angels at Gloucester Cathedral, England

Brain injury grief is

extraordinary grief

research proves

needs healing.

Identity

This part is very personal. As I wrote in my memoir, Concussion Is Brain Injury: Treating the Neurons and Me, I died January 2000, the day of a multi-car crash. Not physically, but the person that I was. And until I travelled to visit family in the UK, I hadn’t realized that identity annihilation included my natal bond. Every time I flew in to London, I’d feel a tug: “home.” It wasn’t a thought; it was a sense from deep inside. My brain injury broke that bond. Thinking it over — and thinking about how elders become nostalgic and yearn to move back home — I wonder if humans don’t have the same homing instinct like salmon do. Sorry to compare us to fish! — even if evolutionary scientists suggest we arose from fishy creatures — but many nearing end-of-work life wax nostalgic and/or seem to have an instinctive drive to return to their place of birth. For me, that would be London. I don’t have a drive right now to return, just in case you were wondering.

I visited my first home in 2015 and had a rather visceral reaction even though all my brain injury treatments hadn’t restored whatever that bond is that pings “home” every time I landed in London. At the end of that trip, it took all my willpower to pick up my suitcase at Kings Cross and cab it to my hotel and flight back to Toronto. But my home is here, in Toronto.

Except for my birth family, all my relatives live in the UK. Since I was 13, I saved up several times to visit them whenever I could, and I’ve seen and explored my family’s centuries-deep geneology. I was raised in the British culture. An English prof got mad at me for mixing my British and Canadian idioms. (And what’s wrong with that, I ask. It keeps readers on their idiomatic toes!)

But I am Canadian. I’m firmly entrenched in Canada; Toronto is my home and where God landed me. Yet as Lisa Burton wrote in the Yorkshire Bylines:

“…British people abroad tend to be more globalist in attitude, with many living in multi-cultural societies. Being an immigrant and a minority changes your perspective.”

The Right to Vote

I googled, as one is wont to do when dithering like a bird flapping its wings in a gale. That gale is, in the words, of the Voice of America:

“An estimated 3.5 million Britons living overseas will from Tuesday be eligible to vote in United Kingdom general elections, in one of the biggest increases in the country’s electoral franchise in a century….

Implemented ahead of an election set for later this year, it is the most significant change to the voter rolls since a 1928 law granted women equal voting rights, and a 1969 move to lower the voting age to 18 from 21.”

A British WWII veteran campaigned relentlessly to bring enfranchisement to all British citizens. The BBC reported:

“The change follows a long campaign by World War Two veteran Harry Shindler, who left the UK to live in Italy around 40 years ago.

Speaking to the BBC in 2011, he said: “There was a war to bring the vote to the people of Europe. We won the war, but some of the people who took part in the war, me included, are not allowed to vote themselves.”

In 2021, he welcomed the news that the government was changing the rules calling it an “important day for freedom”.”

Britain’s Electoral Reform Society wrote:

“…many argue that a democracy is not a full democracy until all citizens are enfranchised.”

Wikipedia details how countries treat overseas citizens, with Canada having gone through the same process a few years ago as the UK is now, and the US extending enfranchisement further:

“US citizens living abroad enjoy full federal voting rights, regardless of how long they have lived abroad. In addition, 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow US citizens who have never resided in the US to vote in the respective state based on where, at a minimum, their parent or legal guardian last resided.”

Wow! That tanks my concern about voting as a child emigrant. I mean, I did at least reside in the UK for a short while as a babe.

The Moral Argument

The BBC wrote, “During debate of the Election Act in Parliament in 2022, Labour objected to the change, with shadow minister Alex Norris arguing that “wealthy donors who have not lived in the UK for decades will find it easier to contribute”.”

Well, I’m not wealthy. No fantastical daydream will stream pounds into a UK bank account from me. I wonder how much of this argument is about fear and intrinsic British prejudice against the outsider? The town where my mother grew up stagnated from a thriving market town to a shell because of this tendency. Brexit was another example.

The Calgary Herald noted a strong reason for Canadians with British citizenship to vote:

“Retired Brits in the U.S. and most European countries see their U.K. pensions topped up every year. Yet in Canada, Australia and New Zealand — the three countries with the largest cohorts of former U.K. citizens — those pension amounts are frozen at the initial level of the first payment. As the years pass, inflation takes a bigger toll on what they receive…. “We urge people to get in touch with all their candidates beforehand and ask where they stand on this, so these politicians now know they have real constituents for which this is a big issue,” she added.

The Canadian government has also been stonewalled by Britain in its repeated efforts to have this frozen pension situation reversed. In contrast, expat Canadians living in the U.K. and receiving CPP payments do get annual increases to compensate for inflation.”

Well! That decided me. My grandmother lived independently here on her UK pension for as long as her health held out. It simply isn’t fair that UK doesn’t quid pro quo with Canada over indexing pensions; worse, while UK indexes pensions in non-Commonwealth countries like Turkey for god’s sake, it freezes them in Canada, a major Commonwealth leader! I call that cheap petulance!!

In other words, UK policy affects Canadian British citizens; enfranchisement means having the chance to change it for the better. After all, no UK resident will give a toss whether some pensioner in Canada has their pension frozen or not.

Electoral Reform

My British friend who died last year and I talked about politics regularly. He bemoaned the First Past the Post system as did I. Since my first voting foray, I’ve despised having to choose between party and candidate. I’ve had to vote for a piss-poor candidate because I felt strongly about which party should be in power; and I’ve had to vote for a party I didn’t want because I felt only one candidate represented constituents well. I’ve rejected my vote a couple of times when I’ve gotten fed up with this Hobson’s choice. First Past the Post disenfranchises all voters, no matter where they live. I’ve changed my voting pattern here to vote for those parties who’ll bring in electoral reform, to make all of our votes count.

Why does electoral reform in the UK matter to me? Because in a way, it’s an homage to my friend, and we’re interconnected. The idea of global citizenship seems less and less like speculative fiction.

Global Influence

This century, political views have spread like a contagion from the US and UK into Canada. And climate action in these countries affects us all, just as Canada’s does the rest of the world because we’ll only succeed when we’re united.

The UK and US remain influential globally, spreading their cultures and political viewpoints willy nilly. Canada isn’t staunchly British like it used to be. We’ve come fully into ourself this century. But I think it’s a fallacy to say that the UK Parliament (unlike local elections) affects only those living in the UK; Canada’s House of Commons affects Canadians living abroad, for example, the Liberal government’s egregious passport rule change that stranded, panicked many Canadian citizens (born here or not) abroad because they weren’t travelling back to Canada on a Canadian passport. The government put conditions on dual (triple) citizens’ right of return.

Decision

I’ll probably register to vote. And I’ll do my homework because I believe a vote needs to be an informed vote. If I don’t have the energy to look into the candidates where I’m told to vote, then I’ll give this election a miss.

My Duck logo walking on my books in pink and blue shading.

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