At the Norwegian Embassy
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'.