THE debate surrounding extending the franchise to European Union citizens for UK general elections has ignited fierce discussions.

Since Labour leader Keir Starmer raised the idea, there has been an influx of comments suggesting that he is covertly attempting to create an opportunity for a referendum on rejoining the EU, and how he wants to undermine the democratic process in the country.

Tory chairman Greg Hands emerged as one of the most outspoken critics, asserting that granting voting rights to EU citizens was equivalent to gerrymandering.

However, the notion that extending the right to vote is an attempt to rig elections is baseless, flawed, and problematic.

It is using the same old reactionary arguments of foreigners who are, really, “the enemy from within” – they are stealing our jobs; now they want to steal our vote! Let’s keep them in check lest they start ruling us for their own advantage!

Let’s be clear: EU citizens residing in the UK make substantial contributions across sectors such as healthcare, education, research, hospitality, and culture. They pay taxes, abide by the law, and actively participate in their communities.

Moreover, they are already voting in many parts of the country, including Scotland.

My ability to vote in Scottish elections is a crucial factor that fosters a sense of belonging, value, and home for me.

When I share with my fellow French nationals that Scotland grants voting rights to all its citizens, regardless of their nationality, they are consistently amazed and develop a positive perception of a country that embraces the diversity of its people, respects their varied experiences, and acknowledges how it may shape their voting choices.

In Scotland, they are not merely tolerated additions, but they are integral parts of the nation, fully recognised as being part of Scotland too.

They perceive it as a valuable lesson for France, where the contentious issue of granting voting rights to non-EU citizens who have resided in the country for a significant period, at least in local elections, has been debated for the best part of the past 40 years.

Democracy thrives when as many citizens as possible participate. When I cast my vote in Scottish elections, it is only natural for my lived experiences to influence my decision-making, just like any other member of society.

Why is that so wrong?

EU citizens experience the cost of living crisis just like everyone else. They are impacted by struggling public services just like any other Scot.

They have diverse views and beliefs – some more progressive, some more conservative – just like any other group of voters. We are not a monolithic bloc that blindly follows a predetermined agenda.

The notion that EU citizens would vote in a way that disproportionately favours a particular political party is misguided. General elections encompass a wide range of policy issues that extend beyond EU membership, and EU citizens’ voting decisions would likely reflect their personal convictions, values, and concerns. So what is there to fear?

To be fair, I do understand Hand’s apprehension regarding granting voting rights to EU citizens.

It would be naive to say that in the short term, Brexit, its execution, and the divisive rhetoric that prevailed within the party over the past few years would have no influence on how EU citizens shape their opinions leading up to an election … how to blame them.

From my perspective, this primarily reflects the Tories’ concern that their own rhetoric might come back and bite them, rather than being a reflection on EU citizens and their voting choices.

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Speaking of things coming back to bite the Tories, Jacob Rees-Mogg has something to say about the consequences of changing electoral rules, as was the case at the English local elections earlier this month, as a new requirement was introduced for voters to present photo identification for the first time in order to receive their ballot paper.

Although the Government said it was to prevent the quasi inexistent problem of vote fraud, Rees-Mogg made an extraordinary admission at the National Conservatism conference in Westminster on Monday.

He said: “Parties that try to gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections. We found the people who didn’t have ID were elderly and they by and large voted Conservative.

"So we made it hard for our own voters and we upset a system that worked perfectly well.”

A couple of days before, Lord Peter Cruddas, a Conservative peer, said: “If Labour win, they will reduce the voting age, abolish voter ID, and introduce proportional representation, making it practically impossible for the Conservative Party to win an outright majority in the future.”

Accusing the extension of the franchise to EU citizens of gerrymandering and rigging elections is a gross mischaracterisation.

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Gerrymandering involves manipulating electoral boundaries and rules to gain a partisan advantage, which is entirely different from extending voting rights to residents based on their contributions and stake in society.

It is the act of restricting the ability to vote that is truly unfair, undermining the principles of democracy and depriving eligible individuals of their fundamental rights.

If expanding the participation of citizens is considered synonymous with gerrymandering, then, by that logic, the extension of the franchise to women could have also been labelled as gerrymandering, as it added many more people to participate in the democratic process.

Certain parties used to make such claims

Much of the French left used to be opposed to allowing women to vote: the Radical Party, a left-of-centre party, which dominated the Senate between the two world wars, blocked all attempts to extend suffrage to women.

They thought that women were more easily influenced by the church, thus giving an unfair advantage to the right, and opening the door to people who were hostile to the republic and the principle of laicite (secularism) voted for at the beginning of the 20th century.

“Women will listen to the priest before voting”, they said, and they were spooked by the fact that Pope Benedict XV encouraged countries to extend the franchise “to women who uphold the values of democracy and Christianity”.

It wasn’t until 1944 that French women were finally granted the right to vote. We should always be wary of those who seek to restrict democratic functioning, make it more complex, and introduce rules that limit representation, all for their own benefit.

It’s incredible to see politicians relying on a democracy with less citizen participation and representation to maintain control. That is precisely what gerrymandering is.

Excluding some citizens from the democratic process risks creating divisions, perpetuating a sense of exclusion, and eroding trust in democratic institutions. It sends a message that their contributions and voices are secondary, that they are not equal members of society.

“But what use would there be to become a British citizen then?”, they ask.

The truth is, there are a variety of reasons why people choose to apply for British citizenship. Naturally, it provides certain rights and privileges, but this is also something people do to materialise a profound sense of belonging.

Even though I already have the right to vote in Scotland, if it were to ever become independent, I believe I would still apply for Scottish citizenship because I already feel I belong here.

By the end of this year, I will have officially resided in the UK for five years, making me eligible to apply for UK citizenship.

However, at this stage, especially after Brexit, I can’t say that my primary motivation to apply would be my sense of belonging to the United Kingdom.

Other factors, such as guaranteeing the stability of my status in this country, with the right to live and work here, would hold greater importance.