Monday, 15 September 2014

Disenfranchisement and the Scottish Referendum

Two blog posts within a week! My readers will never recover from the shock. But this is urgent, because the Scottish referendum is almost upon us. So here goes.

It occurs to me to wonder how democratic this Scottish referendum really is, as I’ve thought further about the implications of what the Scottish Parliament has set in motion. You are entitled to vote if you are a UK citizen (and certain other groups) resident in Scotland. There is a provision for people who are out of the country at the time of the referendum, but none at all for those who were born in Scotland but are resident elsewhere in the UK. Yet these folk (I know a number of them personally) self-identify as Scottish quite specifically, and would be horrified to think of themselves being classed as English (or Welsh or Northern Irish, too, I daresay, but they would hate the English classification most). Indeed, the thought is quite ridiculous. These people are Scottish first, and British second, and take great pride in their Scottish heritage. Yet they are not permitted to vote in this referendum that may in fact, if the vote is Yes, strip them of their Scottish citizenship permanently.

It makes perfectly good sense for the electors to the Scottish Parliament to be elected by those who live in Scotland, as they will be the people whose lives that Parliament will affect by its policies. But when it comes to independence, and splitting off completely and permanently from the rest of the United Kingdom, it is a very different matter. Since Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for many centuries, most Scots who are resident in the rest of the UK have done nothing but engage in simple labour mobility – they have gone where their work takes them. Their leaving Scotland implies no rejection of their Scottish heritage or sense of belonging there. Most could have had no idea that during the period of their exile the Scottish Parliament would demand and be granted a referendum on Scottish independence in which which they would not be entitled to vote. If ever there was disenfranchisement, this is it. Of course it may not be pure coincidence that this disenfranchisement directly affects the likelihood of a Yes vote. Those who have always seen the UK as a whole, and have lived in other parts of it outside Scotland, would, I suggest, be far more likely to vote No than those who have stayed within the country, and far less likely to appreciate Scottish Nationalism. How significant is this? Is this disenfranchisement of patently Scots people of many generations’ standing an accident? And it does seem strange that there has been little comment upon it, as though not many (apart from the Scots affected, presumably) have considered it.

Worse still, if the vote is Yes, those Scots people will, unless they abandon their careers forthwith and scramble back into Scotland before independence is finally declared, be permanently deprived of citizenship in the country to which they belong, and to which their families have belonged, the vast majority for many centuries. How can this be just? What will they then be – English? Welsh? according to the country they happen to be living in (this wouldn’t automatically qualify you to play for England at cricket or football, or represent a country at the Commonwealth Games, for example), or will they be left only with Britishness? I think some Scots have started to think about this – a letter or two about it has appeared in the newspapers – but it is something that should really have been considered long ago, before a referendum was agreed to by our foolish Coalition government. No wonder the Queen has advised the Scots to think very carefully. Above politics she may be, and unwilling to get involved on either side (quite rightly, as a constitutional monarch). But there is a coded message there. She knows it would be a mistake to tear the Union apart without very careful thought. I just hope the Scots who are entitled to vote will heed her advice.

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