Monday, November 2, 2009

Democracy from a distance, and decolonisation

Iain Dale has picked up on Giles Tremlett's article in the Guardian, in which he argues that British citizens overseas should be given dedicated MPs to represent them in parliament, in line with the system now in place for French ex-pats. Tremlett notes - "we have happily created a Europe without borders, encouraging people to travel, live and work in other countries, but we have not changed our electoral system to reflect that". It seems to me, though, that the logic points in a slightly different direction, although it's just as well Tremlett didn't suggest it otherwise it really would have brought Iain Dale out in a rash. EU citizens can already vote in municipal and European parliament elections in their country of residence rather than origin. Surely the obvious next step is to allow, say, the large number of French citizens in London to vote for their local Westminster MP, and British ex-pats in France to vote in elections for the French presidency and National Assembly? I can hear the indignant splutters of "sovereignty!" as I write, but there would be nothing unprecedented about any of this. The UK has long permitted Commonwealth and Irish citizens to vote in general elections - that's a full third of the world's population who are potentially eligible if they become resident here. The only difference under a new European system is that any rights granted would have to be reciprocal.

This wouldn't address the related issue, identified by Iain Dale, of the peoples of the remaining British Overseas Territories (ie. colonies) who are now full British citizens. But if those areas are given their own Westminster MPs, surely logic dictates that they become de facto integral parts of the UK, just as French Guiana is (incredibly) part of France. It might not be as bad a thing as it sounds, though. As I understand it, the UN defines "decolonisation" in one of a number of ways - independence for the territory concerned, a free association agreement between the territory and the former colonial power (as between the Cook Islands and New Zealand) or full integration. In 2009 it really is long past time for Britain to move on from its imperial past, and perhaps the Overseas Territories should be consulted about which of the decolonisation options they'd prefer.

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