Universal suffrage?


There are plenty of frustrating things about being a foreign resident, but the one that still smarts after so many years is not being able to vote. I’ve now lived in Catalonia longer than I did in my home country. That always makes me feel a little weird when I think of it, but doesn’t really matter as long as I can live like any other citizen, with the same rights as everyone else. In just about every sphere of life that is the case, except I – along with thousands of others – are only allowed to vote in local and European elections.

That’s okay as far as it goes, but it only seems right that as I’m a fully paid-up member of this society that I should also get a say in Spanish general elections and Catalan regional elections. After all, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with letting me pay my taxes here like any other citizen. That’s a right, or rather obligation, that is extended to me and my kind. I have been in full-time employment since I arrived here, until recently – now that I’m getting older – I’ve barely troubled the health service for anything, I’ve never received any public money in the form of grants or benefits, my children are Catalan, I work for Catalan companies, I eat botifarra, all my paperwork is in order, my car is Japanese but I did buy it from a local business, and so on, but still no vote. I’d say that I’ve done enough to deserve one. I can’t even vote in the UK, as it’s been over 15 years since I was resident there. Apart from the fact I wouldn’t feel comfortable having a say there, as I contribute nothing to British society these days.

By the way, before I continue my rant, if you want to know more about the three upcoming elections, which start with a general election on April 28, you can read all about them on pages 16 to 19, where we have an overview of the polls.

“No taxation without representation” was the slogan of disgruntled Americans in the 18th century, as they began to grow increasingly unhappy with British rule. I’m not considering withholding my taxes until I get a vote, as I’ll only end up in jail, but I do have a lot of sympathy with the spirit of that phrase. That the right to vote should be based on where you were born makes no sense at all. Should I pay my taxes to the UK, seeing as I was born there?

Which brings us to the next step: how to change the status quo. Well, to change things in a democratic society – in theory, anyway – people vote. If enough of them vote for change, the powers that be have no choice but to implement their wishes or fall into tyranny. We have seen in recent years how that does not always work very well. Exhibit A are the Catalan leaders on trial for participating in a democratic process and then enabling people to vote, for which they could spend years in prison. Exhibit B is Brexit, with calls to repeat the referendum on the grounds that some people did not like the outcome. Exhibit C is the paradox that if I want to help things to change so that I get full voting rights like my fellow citizens, then I should use my vote . Except I don’t have a vote, so I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work. Basically, I’m not holding my breath.

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