On Friday evening on BBC Reporting Scotland there was a sly wee piece which attempted to normalise the idea that people born in Scotland who live elsewhere in the UK should be eligible for a vote in the next independence referendum. It was a classic example of a British nationalist talking point being presented as neutral and unbiased news. The only people talking about allowing people born in Scotland who live elsewhere in the UK to vote in a future independence referendum are of course those who most fear that they’re going to lose the vote.
However if those who were happy with the franchise existing for the last Scottish independence election are now seeking a radical change to the franchise, they are going to need considerably better justification for it than “Ah well we think we’re going to lose now”. That’s why they are now arguing that Scottish born people resident elsewhere in the UK should be allowed to vote, because there are reasons to believe that this is a demographic which is less sympathetic to independence than those of us who actually live here. They overwhelmingly live in England, where for the most part their only information about the Scottish debate comes from a British press which is universally opposed to Scottish independence and which uncritically pumps out British nationalist talking points.
It is telling that the people who are loudest in their demands that Scottish born people resident elsewhere in the UK should be allowed to vote in a future referendum are strangely silent when it comes to the topic of allowing Scottish born people resident in the EU or elsewhere in the world to vote too. Because surely, if you are indeed so concered to ensure that all Scottish born people have a say, you’d want Scottish people resident elsewhere in the world to have a say too. But there are reasons to believe that Scottish born people resident in other EU countries might now be rather more in favour of independence, so allowing them a vote is the last thing that British nationalists want. The failure of British nationalists to include Scottish born people resident elsewhere in the world in their demands for an extension of the franchise is a clear illustration of their hypocritical and cynical attempt to gerrymander the vote in their own interests. This piece from the BBC appeared suspiciously like an attempt to provide them with some justification.
The BBC piece informed us that US resident elsewhere in the world will be eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election. It also told us that the citizens of certain other countries are allowed to vote in their elections even though they live abroad. All this is true, however it’s a false equivalence. All those people are citizens of independent states which have already decided for themselves who gets to qualify as a citizen and who doesn’t. It is not for the British state to prejudge the issue and decide who will get to be a citizen of an independent Scotland. That’s a matter for an independent Scotland.
It is of course highly likely that Scotland will offer citizenship to everyone who was born in this country as well as to those of us who live here, but it will also offer that citizenship to people born in Scotland who live elsewhere in the world – not just to those who now live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
Being eligible for citizenship doesn’t mean you’re automatically a citizen. People who were born in Scotland but who now live elsewhere in the UK may very well decide not to take up the option of Scottish citizenship once Scotland becomes independent. These people are likely to be most strongly represented amongst those whose opposition to independence is the fiercest. People born in Scotland who reside elsewhere may not even identify as Scottish. Yet the people with the least interest in becoming citizens of an independent Scotland are precisely the people that the British nationalists are most keen on having a vote.
It’s important to note that unless the British Government decides to change its citizenship laws after Scottish independence, such people will remain British citizens. Removing British citizenship from people is a matter for the British Government not the government of an independent Scotland. It’s very hard to see Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Malcolm Rifkind, or the other Anglo-Scots in the Conservative party supporting a measure from their own party that would strip them of their political careers.
As things stand, under existing UK citizenship laws, everyone in Scotland who is already a British citizen will retain that citizenship following Scottish independence. Their children yet to be born will also retain the right to British citizenship on the grounds of having a parent who was a British citizen. Ireland was in a similar situation following Irish independence, which is why the UK Govt passed the Ireland Act which deemed that all Irish citizens will not be regarded as “foreign” for the purposes of UK legislation.
In an attempt to reassure us, the BBC report told us that even if Scottish born people resident elsewhere in the UK are allowed to vote in a future referendum, there is still likely to be a yes majority. Based on current opinion polling, a 53% majority for yes would fall to 50.4%. Still a majority for yes, but a narrow squeak. What this tells us is that those of us who live here are becoming resolved to seek independence and that a future as an independent state is well on the way to becoming the settled will of the Scottish people. No wonder there are those who are desperate to change the franchise.
We should continue to resist any attempt from the British nationalists to pauchle the franchise. Their calls for an extension of the ballot to Scots born people elsewhere in the UK has nothing to do with fairness or democracy and everything to do with a blatant attempt to dilute the pro-independence majority now existing within Scotland. If it really was about fairness, they’d want Scots living in EU countries and elsewhere in the world to vote too. Strangely, they’re very silent about that, and their silence speaks volumes about their hypocrisy.
It should be up to the Scottish Parliament to decide the franchise for the next independence vote. The referendum must be made in Scotland, owned in Scotland, and decided in Scotland. We must reject the self-serving attempts of the British nationalists to change the franchise to give themselves an advantage, no matter how much the BBC tries to normalise them.
The purpose of this blog is to make a positive case for independence, to attack the pretensions of British nationalism, and to formulate arguments which will help to persuade no voters, undecideds, and soft yes voters to support independence. It’s also to boost the morale of those of us who are already involved in this campaign. I do not provide this platform to allow people to attack others in the movement with whom they disagree. Other people might choose to use their platforms to do so, I don’t.
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