Yesterday I posted a question on my Facebook profile, and asked British friends – both based in the UK and elsewhere to give their reasons why they should or should not vote in the forthcoming UK referendum on EU membership. I never usually agonise about the wording of something like this – although the wording was important – and for me the aim was not to canvass people on which way they would vote, or even their allegiance to “remaining in” or “supporting a Brexit”. I also was happy to let people engage with each other on the question, only intervening when one poster didn’t answer the question set at the first two attempts. Unlike a school exam of yesteryear, where a maths problem had 12 points attached to it, with maybe really only 3 of them for the actual correct answer, and the rest for the application of a method in arriving at that answer, the answer was a straight multiple choice yes/no, although there is no single “right answer” to the question solved – if you accept that everyone is entitled to their answer, irrespective of whether forthright or irreverent. Of course the referendum question has to have no room for such discretion.
Before a statistician dismisses the “very insignificant” sample – there were only a very small subsample of friends who responded to the question of those eligible – this was also not the aim of the exercise, but also reflects another interesting issue about the Referendum of turnout, as well of course as the issue of subconsciously addressing how some people are “early to declare” their allegiance, while others “sit on the fence” for a long time – both phenomena that are frequent in opinion polls. And of course there is also whichever whizzbang algorithm Facebook uses to try to get people to click most on their site while not seeing what they really want to see.
An area that I have championed in the blog is to try to actively engage people to vote, and some respondents said that they were not sure that they were registered or not – granted that giving them the link to register to vote is only one step (and I can’t be sure whether they’ll click and register) but if it means that even a “lurker” on the post registers to vote, it will be a success.
For a lot of the people who responded and who have forged a career in the EU the freedom of movement has been of importance – whereas the issue seems to be of a lesser importance to those who have forged their careers outside the UK but outside the EU too – some of it of course boils down to people’s perspective of where/how they see their long-term future. One quipped that being in the EU has improved access to quality food or beer (freedom of bowel movement?). One reply raised the interesting point of how the goalposts have moved, and that when he left the UK back in the late 1990s he could not have imagined that the prospect of eventually losing his voting rights would have have swayed him not to have tried living abroad. One reply stated that “[being able to vote in the referendum has a] fundamental impact on substance of British citizenship, not just what it means to live in UK.”
Had the referendum taken place when I was at my most eurosceptic (probably around the time that I was working in Brussels for an American telecoms company, and experiencing how much lobbying was necessary to get anywhere in establishing a pan-European backbone fibre optic network), I would have being taken a very short-termist view – at that point I knew that I might work abroad, and while Austrian EU Accession had simplified my Year Abroad in terms of paperwork, the playing field then was vastly different to today – particularly since that was back in the times of the 15 country EU – and now there are 28 States, and that I owe my career to the freedom of movement afforded to me.
Of interest was the fact that two pairs of brothers answered – in both cases one was living in the UK, and would be voting and had always voted – viewing it as a privilege or a responsibility or a right (the terms seem fairly interchangeable for some of the replies). In both cases their siblings had forged careers outside the EU (one in South Africa and one in the United States), and it was clear that the (lack of) physical proximity to the situation might have had a role in their stance on whether to vote. It was interesting to see how their UK-domiciled brothers played a slightly “inner conscience” role in both cases.
The impact has been for different for people living away from the UK depending on whether they have had children – in my case, my son only has a UK citizenship through me, and although medium-term naturalisation and taking on Austrian citizenship could be an alternative (yes – I qualify for Austrian citizenship, I also work for an Austrian government agency), others might not have such a seemingly fixed place of residence. One very mobile EU-based UK citizen (currently Germany based, but who I met here in Vienna and she has also lived and worked outside the EU) pointed out that even though she doesn’t have children, the decision being taken in the referendum is also one that she feels is being taken for the next generation – she cites that she hopes any future children, or her nieces/nephews, will enjoy the fabulous opportunities that EU membership has afforded her in terms of study and work.
In contrast a very philosophical response from another questions why we should be taking the decision for a generation possibly even not yet born – shaping their future for them rather than giving them the freedom/opportunity to decide for themselves and/or to not have their fate settled by their elders – all complimented by some apposite quotations predominantly from non-European philosophy – an indication that for some, there is a bigger picture that others might not see.
As with many people seeing the right to vote as a privilege/right/responsibility there are hints that some believe voting should be mandatory – or that anyone not voting should not complain about the consequences of the result if they do not vote. There was also a clear case of disenfranchisement – a number of people were in the boat I find myself in of not being able to vote.
Thanks to everyone who commented and replied – more comments are of course very welcome – and if you haven’t registered to vote – do so at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.