For most people who support the idea of Scottish independence, it’s not about identity. Even for those who do prize a Scottish identity, that Scottish identity is not usually an ethnic one. Scottishness is a state of mind. It’s about where you live and how you choose to identify rather than being about where your parents or your ancestors came from. You could say that the difference between the civic nationalism espoused by the great majority of Scottish independence supporters and ethnic nationalism is that the first is about the future, the second is about the past.
Scottish identities are complex and multilayered. A minority of people in Scotland feel British first and Scottish second. A larger group feels Scottish first and British second. Another large group feels Scottish but not British at all. And there’s a segment which feels British but not Scottish. Scottish independence will not force an identity on anyone. Those who identify as British will still be British. Those who choose to travel on a British passport will still be free to do so.
This doesn’t mean that you will have to have a British passport following Scottish independence. It means that you can choose to retain one if indeed being British is important to your identity and how you define yourself. It’s just that independence will also give those of us who’d prefer a Scottish passport the option of getting one. Following Brexit, a Scottish passport will be far more likely to offer the freedom to move and settle anywhere in Europe than a British one will. You could even have both passports, should you choose. Most countries recognise dual citizenship, Scotland will be no different.
Back during the 2014 referendum campaign Magrit Curran – remember her? – went on the tellybox for an interview. The then Shadow Scotland Secretary bewailed how a Yes result in the referendum would make her children foreigners to her because they live in London. The interviewer nodded sympathetically. The trauma. The horror. But had the interviewer being doing their job properly, they would have remarked that Magrit was factually incorrect. Her kids would not become foreigners to her following Scottish independence.
In just about every country in the world, the offspring of citizens are entitled to citizenship through their parents. The children of a Scottish citizen, especially children who were themselves born in Scotland but who later moved to London, would naturally have the right to Scottish citizenship. Magrit’s weans wouldn’t be foreigners to her, because following independence they would like her have the right to claim Scottish citizenship.
But Magrit’s weans wouldn’t be foreigners to her because Magrit would also be entitled to retain British citizenship. Back in 2014, the British government confirmed that it had no plans to change its citizenship laws should Scotland become independent. Changing the laws about British citizenship following independence would mean stripping the likes of Michael Gove and Liam Fox of their British passports. Can you see them voting for that? No, neither can I.
What the current British citizenship laws mean is that everyone who is currently a UK citizen who lives in Scotland, or UK citizens who were born in Scotland but who now live elsewhere, would still have the right to British citizenship following an independence referendum. And so would their children. In order to qualify for British citizenship by descent, you need to have at least one parent who acquired British citizenship at birth by virtue of being born somewhere which was a part of the UK – at the time of their birth. Scottish independence does not change the reality that at the time of birth of every person born in Scotland who is alive today, we were born somewhere which was part of the UK.
Everyone who is alive in Scotland today and who is a British citizen would under current citizenship laws retain the right to British citizenship following independence. This is what happened when Ireland became independent. The children of everyone who was born in Scotland who is alive today, or who will be born right up until the date of Scottish independence, will likewise be entitled to British citizenship by virtue of the fact that they have a parent who was born a British citizen on British territory.
What this means in practical terms is that the first people who won’t have the right to British citizenship following Scottish independence will be the children of the first baby to be born in Scotland following the formal date of independence – assuming, that is, that that baby has a child with someone who isn’t a British citizen themselves. So we’re talking here about the children of people who haven’t been born yet, a generation which won’t be born for some 20 years following the date of Scottish independence.
But even if it were indeed the case that Magrit Curran’s weans would have a different passport from her – so what? Is your love for your children and your relationship with them predicated upon a piece of paper? Surely not. If you really would be estranged from your own kids simply because they have a different citizenship from you, that’s not an argument against independence, it’s an argument that you’re desperately in need of family therapy.
The new Scottish state will need to implement a citizenship law to establish the parameters for who qualifies for Scottish citizenship in the future, and that’s something that can only be determined once Scotland is independent. The British state can’t prejudge who would or would not be the citizen of an independent country, which is one reason why it’s only right and proper that the franchise for the independence referendum should be restricted to those of us who currently reside in Scotland.
In the vast majority of countries, people have the right to citizenship when they are born in that country to people who are legally resident there. Those who acquire citizenship by virtue of being born in the territory of the state generally have the right to pass that citizenship on to their own children when those children are born abroad. It is likely that Scotland will extend citizenship to all British citizens resident in Scotland at the time of independence, to everyone who was born in the territory of Scotland, and to their children who were born outwith Scotland. Personally, I would hope that upon attaining independence, the new Scottish state will also offer citizenship to everyone who is legally resident in Scotland upon the date of Scottish independence – irrespective of their current citizenship. That would be a marvellous gesture to demonstrate the inclusivity of the new Scottish state.
However if you feel British no one is going to take that away from you. At least no one in Scotland. Those who identify as British will be every bit as able to participate fully in Scottish civic life as any Scottish citizen. Independence is not about forcing an identity on anyone. It’s about governance, it’s about democracy, and it’s about giving the people of this country the powers that we need in order to determine the path that this country takes.
The plan for this article and several others dealing with key points in the independence debate is to collate them and publish them in book form when we have a date for the independence vote. Some of these articles have already been published on this blog and others have yet to be written. The idea is that when we know when Scotland will be voting, I will do a crowd-funder specifically for the purpose of raising money to get the book printed, and then it can be distributed to Yes groups and campaigners and given away for free.
There’s already a Wee Blue Book, let’s have a Wee Ginger Book too. This isn’t meant as competition for the Wee Blue Book – which is a fantastic initiative with proven success – but rather it is to be complementary to it. Different writing styles and different books can appeal to different readerships and different demographics. The more information we can get out there, the more people we can persuade to Yes. If you have any suggestions for topics for articles to include in this book, let me know and I will write something up – if I haven’t done so already.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
You can order the book directly from the publisher. Ordering directly means that postage is free. You can order here –
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