There is now some certainty in the Scottish political landscape. It’s a certainty that Scotland is now a country where a clear majority of people support independence. It’s a certainty that among people under retirement age that majority becomes substantial. It’s a certainty that among young people that majority is overwhelming. And it’s a certainty that given this knowledge the British nationalists will attempt to pauchle the franchise just as they did in 1979 in order to boost the chances of the result of the next referendum being to their pleasing.
Of course it was entirely predictable that now that support for independence enjoys consistent majority support in Scotland, British nationalists would be demanding that the goalposts be shifted. There’s an unholy alliance on social media with George Galloway and the BBC’s Andrew Neil amongst others tweeting that anyone born in Scotland resident elsewhere in the UK must be allowed a vote in an independence referendum. Michael Gove piped in to remark “interesting question”.
There’s your literal blood and soil ethnic nationalism right there. British nationalists want people defined as Scots on an ethnic basis to be allowed to vote, and then they accuse independence supporters of ethnic nationalism, of identity politics. Yet it’s the independence movement which is proud to recognise that those eligible to vote should be everyone, no matter what their background or ethnicity, who has done Scotland the honour of choosing to live here, build their lives here, and contribute to Scottish society.
It’s terribly unfair, according to British nationalists, that foreign citizens resident in Scotland can get a vote, but not someone who left Scotland at the age of 18 to go and live in London and has never returned to live in Scotland. Because apparently people who left the land of their birth for better opportunities elsewhere and who very well may have no intention of ever returning to live in Scotland are going to be dreadfully affected by Scottish independence. Although how they’re going to be affected exactly, they never seem to explain. They will still be able to come back to live in Scotland if they so choose. Unless the British state decides to change its citizenship laws following Scottish independence, they will remain UK citizens with all the same rights and obligations that they currently enjoy. They will not become “foreigners” in the UK unless the British Government makes the decision that they should be. Perhaps they ought to ask that British Government for reassurances instead of demanding that they be allowed to influence the futures of those of us who chose to remain in Scotland or chose to come and live here while they themselves remain in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
Note that the British nationalists only want Scottish born people resident elsewhere in the UK to get a vote, and seem to have forgotten about Scottish born people resident anywhere in the EU. Since it’s the UK’s decision to leave the EU despite the objections of a majority in Scotland which is one of the main causes of the rise in support for independence, the omission is telling. Far less have British nationalists suggested that Scots born people resident elsewhere in the world should also get a vote.
It is equally telling that the likes of Michael Gove and his Brexity Tory pals think that it’s an “interesting question” whether Scottish born people resident elsewhere in the UK should get a vote in a future independence referendum irrespective of how long they’ve lived outwith Scotland. Michael Gove was a senior member of a Conservative government which in the EU referendum denied the vote to UK citizens who had been resident in EU countries for more than 15 years. The double standard couldn’t be more obvious, and we all know why British nationalists are currently bleating about how unfair it would be not to allow Scottish born people living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to vote in a Scottish indepedence referendum. It’s because they believe that Scottish born people who live elsewhere in the UK would be more likely to vote against independence, while they believed that UK citizens resident in EU states would have been more likely to vote against Brexit. This isn’t about democracy at all. It’s not about fairness. It’s simply a blatant attempt to fix the vote in order to make a No vote more likely in a second referendum.
There are several reasons why this latest act of desperation is a non-starter. Firstly, it is not for the British state to prejudge the citizenship qualifications of a future independent Scotland. That’s for an independent Scotland to decide. While it is highly likely that an independent Scotland would offer the right to Scottish citizenship to anyone born in Scotland, no matter where they now live, those people may choose not take up the offer and be content with their current citizenship status. It is unfair on those of us who do live here that people who have no interest in becoming Scottish citizens and who don’t live in Scotland be given the opportunity to vote on the futures of those of us who do reside in Scotland. The constitution of an independent Scotland will decide who counts as Scottish, not a Conservative Government in Westminster that Scotland didn’t vote for.
Secondly, there is precedent. A Scottish independence referendum is not an unknown quantity in British politics. There was already a referendum and the British nationalists were perfectly happy with the franchise decided at the time. The only reason that the suggestion is being aired now that they change it is because they are afraid that they’re going to lose. They were happy with the terms of the franchise in 2014. The only thing that has changed is that opinion polls now show a majority for Yes.
Finally, and most importantly, a referendum on the future of Scotland must be made in Scotland if it is to have any legitimacy. A referendum whose terms are decided by the British state lacks that legitimacy, it would not be a Scottish referendum but a British one. It is for the Scottish Parliament to decide upon the form of the question, the franchise, and the length of the campaign, not a British Government which has proven that it cannot be trusted where Scotland is concerned. The terms and conditions of the referendum must be decided by the Scottish Parliament to which the voters of Scotland have given a mandate for another referendum. The Scottish Parliament, and only the Scottish Parliament, is the body which has the democratic authority and legitimacy to hold the referendum. It cannot be contradicted, gainsayed, or have conditions forced upon it by a British Government which seeks to gerrymander the franchise in its own favour.
After all, we are only now where we are, with majority support for independence, because the British Government has acted in a mendacious and deceitful manner, traducing the promises and commitments that it made to Scotland in 2014. The Westminster parties can assert all they like that they’ve fulfilled those promises, but the electorate clearly doesn’t believe them. If voters did believe them then they would not be turning to support independence in such numbers. The crucial defining feature of a democracy is that the voters get the last word, not the politicians.
The Tories can bugger off. This is Scotland’s referendum, not theirs.
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