At the Norwegian Embassy

Jessica Furseth

I went to the Norwegian Embassy in Belgravia yesterday to cast my absentee ballot in next week’s parliamentary election. Along with my fellow countrymen and women, pasty and sweating in the direct sunlight, I queued silently for the makeshift voting room, next to the bins.

I haven’t lived in Norway for 17 years and don’t follow its politics closely any more. I skipped the 2005 and 2009 elections, when the red-green coalition was a shoo-in. But this time the race is tight. The right-wing populist Progress Party used to be sidelined, too far out to be considered as a coalition partner by the other parties. But since 2013, Norway has been governed by a minority coalition of the Conservative and Progress parties, with the support of two smaller centre-right parties.

One reason I went to vote is that I’d like to see the left return to power. The other was that I was hungry to participate in a democratic process somewhere. Britain has been my home for nearly two decades, and I care deeply about the elections here in which I have no say. Not being able to vote in the UK pains me more each time; I get my democratic fix where I can.

In 2013, I voted Labour, but this time I hesitated: the party has decided not to take a stand on the one issue in Norwegian politics that I’ve been following closely, a proposed bill for allowing dual citizenship. Norway is one of the few countries in the world that won’t let its citizens also be citizens of another country – something that really matters to me as a European living in Brexit Britain. Almost all the parties have declared where they stand on the issue, but not Labour.

Under a first-past-the-post system, I’d simply have voted for the party with the best chance to oust the government. I live in the constituency of Richmond Park where we have to endure Zac Goldsmith as our MP again after he beat the Lib Dem candidate by 45 votes – helped, absurdly, by the 5773 people who voted Labour.

But unlike the House of Commons, the Norwegian parliament reflects the popular vote. The electoral system is based on proportional representation; there are 169 MPs for a population of 5.2 million. It really feels as if every vote counts, which may be one reason average turnout in Norway is a relatively high 77 per cent (in Britain it’s 62 per cent).

The parties that support the dual citizenship bill include the Socialist Left, which my father represented in local government throughout my childhood (before pragmatism took over and he switched to Labour), and the Greens. They’ve never been a big party, but are expected to do better this year. As well as their environmental programme, their manifesto includes a plan to make our national ID numbers gender-neutral, and they support my right to belong in more than one country. Whatever the result, however, watching this all unfold from Brexit Britain, I have to admit that Norway’s election doesn’t even crack the top ten of my concerns. But still, it felt good to say after voting, as Norwegians do, that I'd done my 'civic duty'.


  • 10 September 2017 at 2:20pm
    Eric de Kuyper says:
    Voting in our democratic European countries is not always easy.I am Belgian, but for more than two decades I lived, worked, paid my taxes, had the children go to school in Holland. During these years I had no contact with
    Belgium, ...As I still had only my Belgian citizenship - for sentimental reasons?- I could not vote in the country I lived in. Of course I could ask (could I?) dual citizenship. But as I was not sure to stay in Holland neither - and actually since two decades now I live in Germany - I thought it was not really necessary. I also deeply cared of the elections in Holland.
    On the other hand, I never voted in Belgium. It is one of the few countries in Europe where the voting system is 'obligatory'. I always was convinced that voting was a Right and not an obligation!

  • 11 September 2017 at 10:53am
    Liam says:
    Jessica Furseth - maybe we should swap votes? I have a vote in the UK as a UK citizen but am resident in Norway. I am unable to vote in Norwegian elections until I have citizenship here.

    • 11 September 2017 at 3:53pm
      Jessica Furseth says: @ Liam
      Haha not a bad idea! Here's to a change in citizenship laws, so this problem can be solved for both of us.

  • 13 September 2017 at 12:52pm
    cwritesstuff says:
    Does Norway not allow dual citizenship? If you've been in the UK for some/most of those 17 years away, why not become British?

  • 15 September 2017 at 6:42am
    UncleShoutingSmut says:
    The underlying question here - who votes? - turns out to be more complex than it seems. In the UK, leaving the EU was not a ‘British’ decision, whether that term is taken to reference citizenship or residency. It was a decision made by a group comprising UK-resident British citizens, non-resident British citizens registered to vote before 2001, and UK-resident citizens of 54 other states including India, Swaziland, the Solomon Islands, and Ghana. It however excluded non-UK-resident citizens of any EU country except Cyprus, Ireland and Malta. This meant that two groups - UK-resident EU citizens, and long-term EU-resident UK citizens, both with a great deal riding on the referendum, notably the few voting rights they had in their adopted countries, were not consulted.

    The response of the (previous) UK government to this absurdity was to promise to extend voting rights to UK citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years. However, this would merely extend the absurdity. Most votes serve to designate those responsible for laws (including laws on tax raising), and the changes in laws and taxes apply to those who voted for them. Jessica Furseth’s eagerness to vote in Norway might avoid her the embarrassment of belonging to the completely disenfranchised (children, prisoners, many UK-resident citizens of countries without dual nationality or expatriate voting rights), but it begs both the question of her right to a role in creating laws and taxes she will not have to obey or pay anyway, and that of the refusal of the UK to allow her, a resident and (hopefully) law-abiding taxpayer, any say in the lawmaking and tax-levying process in the UK.

    It is reasonable not to be able to vote in a place where you do not live. It is unreasonable to be refused the vote in a place where you live. This is the principle behind the slogan ‘No taxation without representation’, which seems to be as universally recognized as it is universally ignored. I have lived in an EU country for over twenty years and am a UK citizen. During that time I have paid plenty of taxes and have since 2005 been able to vote in European and municipal elections (though no other, and that modest gain may soon be rescinded). I have never voted in the UK in that period, even before the cut-off point, and I would not even if the threshold was ditched completely. I see any voting right for foreign-resident citizens as a breach of sovereignty: of the rights of a real-life community (as opposed to a virtual, diaspora-type one) to decide on its own social organization.

    The real battle to concentrate on is for a franchise for all those resident in a country for a period of time long enough to exclude tourism. Having a tax return would be a simple and logical way of ascertaining such a right. The model of good practice is New Zealand: any non-resident alien who has resided there for one year is entitled to vote.