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Home > Legal & Financial > Can anybody hear me?
People wait to vote for the Arizona primary election outside a polling station in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, March 22. (Photo by Miguel Otarola/Cronkite News)

Can anybody hear me?

It’s a pretty neat place this modern world of ours. National boundaries blur, you can move to another country, set up home and family and run a business. If you are lucky enough to have an EU passport you can freely move to any one of the 28 countries (I’m going to blissfully ignore Brexit for the next 600 or so words) without asking anyone’s permission. You don’t have to exchange your currency. You can set up shop in Mallorca for example, conference call your remote employees in Frankfurt, Stockholm and Chicago, ship goods from China to Peru, and settle your bills in the Philippines by jabbing a few digits at the screen of your smartphone. The free movement of people, capital and information has transformed the world and defined its course for the next century or so. Just don’t expect to vote… anywhere.

It’s general election time in a few places lately. Let me declare an interest. I’m a UK citizen who has been living in, raising children in, buying a house in, setting up a business in, and paying an eye watering amount of tax in Spain for crucially just over 15 years. I don’t qualify for a vote in the Spanish general election, and never will unless I adopt Spanish nationality. In December the UK holds a general election, the main topic of discussion is likely to be Brexit (I tried not to mention it honestly) with all the potential ramifications to a UK citizen living in the EU, I don’t get a vote there any more now either, the right expires 15 years after you bought a one way ticket elsewhere. So unless the rules change I will never ever get to vote anywhere ever again.

This is not unique to those two countries. Most countries globally don’t allow non nationals, even if they are resident and contributing financially to the country, to have their say on polling day. Some countries, like the USA continue to allow their citizens a lifelong vote, regardless of where they are on the planet, but deny the vote to resident non nationals. It’s absurd. And it is beginning to skew political results.

Migration is not new, it is literally as old as our species, but in the last few decades it has shifted up a gear. Both legal, and illegal migration are a modern phenomenon that is difficult to ignore, is shaping our politics and is all but impossible to resist, even if you want to. Genies don’t tend to go back into bottles all that easily.

Looking at some stats for EU nations begins to highlight a problem. Very roughly and on average for most EU countries, the foreign born population is around 10%, with approximately half of those being born in other EU countries. Migrant populations tend to be made up of more people of voting age than resident populations, so you can estimate that on average in EU countries 7-8% of voting age people don’t get to vote. That is a significant slice of the population that go unrepresented, and enough to potentially change the outcome of elections. Of course, if you aren’t eligible to vote, the politicians are not all that interested in what you have to say. The abrupt lurch to the right in European, and American politics, particularly when it comes to immigration may be a product of the fact that in most countries, those who have immigrated, and those who have emigrated don’t get a vote. Their opinions are likely to be more pro migration than those left behind who do have their voices heard, and shape political policy.

Migration seems likely to continue to grow, as the freedom of movement of information, and concepts of remote working go some way to answering a few of the modern world’s problems, but the archaic habit of rooting your right to vote based on where your mother happened to be on the day you were born, rather than the place you choose to function as a contributing citizen is blatantly nonsensical. In the late 18th Century, residents of the British colonies of North America were becoming incensed at being subject to taxation and laws drawn up in the chambers of power in distant London with no democratic rights. Bostonian political activist James Otis coined the now famous phrase “”taxation without representation is tyranny.”… which ultimately led to revolution.

Despite disparate political systems, most people agree that democracy is a precious system. The right to have a say in how you are governed is a basic human right in much of the developed world, a right that people have literally given their lives to win and defend, but that right is slowly, and imperceptibly leaking away through the back door. I will vote for anyone who can defend that right… oh er, hang on….

By Phill McCoffers – The Islander Economics Correspondent