One of the most enlightening aspects of doing this website has been seeing how the nation’s elected representatives behave towards the people they ostensibly represent.
We’ve been collating the responses from various Unionist MPs, MSPs and assorted others to these questions we raised recently and the standard has varied wildly, from serious and considered to petulant and juvenile. (Many more, of course, simply haven’t bothered to respond to their constituents’ queries at all.)
But the most disturbing yet is the one below.
Wings reader Catherine Wilson is a French citizen, but has lived and worked in Scotland for the last 20 years. She’s on the electoral register and can vote in local and Scottish Parliament elections, but not UK Parliament ones. Writing to her local Liberal Democrat MP for Campbeltown, Alan Reid, she focused on our “foreigners” question.
“Dear Mr Reid,
You are part of the “Better Together” campaign which keeps insisting that independence would make our family and friends in the rest of the UK foreigners. Although that may be true in the strict sense of the word, I can’t for the life of me understand why that is a problem.
I am a French citizen, as are my children, but their dad is English, and lives in England. Does that mean he is a foreigner to us? This has never been a consideration for us, and I would like you to explain why it should be.
Could you also tell me if you, as my MP, consider me who has lived and worked in Scotland for over 20 years, as a foreigner? Does that affect the way you are representing me?
These questions are of great importance to me, as for all the years I have lived in Scotland, this has never been an issue, but lately, I have noticed that people were asking where I was from, and in the context of the referendum, why I had a say.
Although this is strictly anecdotal, it does worry me that people are starting to think in this way, and I can’t help thinking this is linked to the rhetoric deployed by the “Better Together” campaign.
Also of great concern to me, as a European citizen, is the question of Europe. Can you guarantee me that in the event of a no vote, the UK will still be in the EU in 5 years time? And in the event of a vote for leaving the EU, what would happen to me and my children who are here on an EU passport?
Both my children were born in the UK, one in England and one in Scotland, they consider Scotland their country, so what guarantees are there they wouldn’t be made to leave if we remained in the UK but were out of the EU?
Please do not reply by telling me that we would be out of the EU in an independent Scotland, that is a separate issue and I already have the answers I need on that one.
Reasonable enough questions, politely expressed. Here’s the reply she got.
“Dear Catherine Wilson
The legal position is that, as a French citizen, you are a foreigner and so I am not your MP.
Nobody can give you a guarantee that the UK will be in the EU in five years’ time.
Without knowing more details about your children’s circumstances and any changes to the law which may be made by a Parliament, which hasn’t yet been elected, it is not possible to answer your questions about their future.
Alan Reid MP”
Mr Reid’s response is immediately worrying. Regardless of the legalities, we think most decent people would be a little concerned at someone who’s made their life in Scotland for two decades and has Scottish children being told that their MP simply didn’t care about them. Does that mean, for example, that Alan Reid doesn’t represent Catherine’s children either? After all, they can’t vote.
So we set about establishing what the legalities actually were. The UK Parliament website’s Code Of Conduct for MPs was of limited assistance:
That sounds like it SHOULD encompass anyone who lives in the constituency, but there’s perhaps just enough wiggle room to suggest that people not entitled to vote might not come under the definition of “constituents”.
Except that elsewhere on the UK Parliament website, the term IS clearly defined:
The UK is divided into 650 different regions called constituencies where the public elect candidates to be their MP. A ‘constituent’ is the name given to every person who lives within or is eligible to vote in a constituency.”
(Under “Related information” in the right-hand column.)
Our emphasis again, and the “or” is obviously key. If you live in an MP’s constituency, you are their constituent, and as such they have a duty to represent you. Alan Reid, therefore, IS Catherine’s MP, whether he likes it or not.
We hesitate to draw the obvious parallels between societies that discriminate against minority groups by allowing them inferior rights and privileges on ethnic grounds. But in a climate where UKIP increasingly drive the political agenda, where even supposedly left-wing “internationalist” politicians regularly use “foreigner” as a pejorative and where the government is restricting the rights of immigrants at every opportunity, there’s something very ugly indeed about an MP – especially a Lib Dem one – telling one of his constituents than in effect she’s a non-person not entitled to his representation.
We wish we could say that we expected things to improve.