I find myself in a curious position. I make no secret that I run this site from Spain. I moved here in September and in all likelihood will stay for a number of years if the opportunity continues. I have professional commitments but spend every moment of my free time concentrating on Darrow, which, as you’ll have noticed, has a soft spot for the politics of home.
Despite this, I cannot vote in the UK General Election. I have the right to do so but I’m opting not to. The decision was not an easy one. Even though my family and friends are concentrated in Edinburgh, how, in good conscience, can I vote when I only spend two months of every year in the Scotland?
There’s an irony involved. I sat yesterday and calculated my finances for the next 12 months. For all the pretence that a man’s private financial affairs are between him and his creditors, they are actually an incredibly public matter: so much of what happens in government and the economy knocks on to interest rates, credit availability and debt repayments.
Despite that, here’s the killer, and why I can’t vote: all the UK parties have forgotten that the country is a first-past-the-post constitutional democracy with 650 constituencies. Each constituency elects a representative, the political party with the most can, at Her Majesty’s invitation, form a government.
A bit condescending? It’s not without justification. Look at the leadership debates the second such occurrence in the last five years. Look five years previous back from that and we have Gordon Brown ascending to the premiership without an election. Look five years before that and we have the British Cabinet system treated as a courtesy and the presidentialisation of the premiership by Tony Blair.
Making politics about character is and should be something done 650 times over. The intense focus on the party leaders is a misnomer about how the system actually works. Voting for a party leader on the basis of how you feel about them is to do nothing more than guaranteeing the authority of the party whips to silence your local representative if needs be.
Every local issue becomes a self-congratulating cycle that things are so much better under government ‘y’ and thank God we don’t have government ‘x’ anymore, we can’t let them get back in. Do the majority of backbenchers go toe to toe with their party in government? No. Does this mean that the elected government of the day is doing absolutely everything correct at the local level? Statistically improbable, but seldom do you get local representatives making the case for a solution that might not be the party’s official policy position.
We are not the United States. We do not elect electors to elect a president. We elect a person on a ballot paper from our communities and it is the most basic right of us as Britons. Representatives should be accountable to their constituents, not to their party leader. They are not the government’s imperial ambassadors to constituencies across the UK, they’re the voice of our communities in government.
So my decision not to vote is based on my not being a denizen for long enough in a five-year window to justify voting. The United Kingdom and Spain have an agreement where I will not be double-taxed; all taxation I pay is to the coffers of the Spanish Government. I am not permitted to vote in local council elections, but I struggle to find the logic as to why the system acknowledges that I shouldn’t be able to influence Edinburgh wheelie bin pick-up dates but can affect how HM Government’s spends taxes that I no longer contribute to. It is an argument of principle, but when adding up everyone who goes to work abroad each year the hypocrisy moves from a niggle to a pain.
I would draw exception to my own rule in only three circumstances. Firstly, because my own position would have been directly affected by the outcome of the Scottish referendum, I voted by postal ballot 19 days after leaving the United Kingdom. Scotland’s membership of the EU and the very conditions that allowed for me to transition to Spain would have been at risk. Additionally, I will also vote in any referendum held on the UK’s membership of the EU (if I can) and in any EU elections for the same reasons.
For this election, however, I cannot vote for a candidate when I will not be in the constituency to live and breathe their decisions. The local Corstorphine news is not as accessible as updates on the UK leadership debates. Voting from afar is simply a distillation of the issues down to the bare bones of what party I like and what party leader I think sounds the best which is lazy. I’m not a resident, and will not indulge representation without taxation, particularly when I have no intent in paying tax twice. I won’t be voting.