You know they are losing the argument when the folks who once said there would be no second independence ever ever, start fulminating instead about whom the next referendum electorate should comprise.
The phraseology is instructive too. I give you the profound thoughts of Andrew Neil, veteran right wing polemicist and BBC political pundit. He says the only people who should vote in a second indyref should be those born in Scotland. He closes this bald pronouncement with: “end of.”
Interesting wee phrase “end of”. Usually deployed by those whose arguments have run out of road but the end of their tether is still in sight. Just the same, since that other part time Scot, Michael Gove, finds the suggestion “interesting” let us briefly indulge these Jock bashing Londoners.
The Referendums (Scotland) Bill, passed some 15 months ago at Holyrood, determined that most people over 16 who lived in Scotland should be allowed to vote on their country’s future, adopted or not. This embraces people of all nationalities including refugees and asylum seekers whilst affirming the voting rights of EU and Commonwealth passport holders.
Lest there be the smallest doubt about who has the franchise and who doesn’t, the framers of this Bill append no fewer than 53 pages of explanatory notes. By no stretch was this legislation compiled on the back of a fag packet unlike, to take an example completely at random, the UK government’s Covid strategy.
So ask yourself, does a Syrian with a thriving bakery on Bute have a greater stake in Scotland’s future than a London based journalist who devotes much of his commentary to the incapacity of Scots to run their own affairs?
More generally, are not all those new Scots who come to our country to settle here, work and pay taxes here, raise families here, and contribute their skills to our economy, the most pertinent people to decide on the future of their adopted home? Do not all those indigenous Scots who have chosen to stay and work in this country have more skin in the game than those who now reside in other countries?
Just this week we learned that for the first time more people are coming to live and work in Scotland than those departing in the other direction. I’m very well aware that many Scots felt they had little choice other than going elsewhere, most often to London, to advance their careers. That’s their choice, sometimes a necessary one, and I respect it. And if they choose to come home in later years they will be welcomed back on to the voters register.
Yet the manoeuvring to broaden the franchise has zip to do with giving a vote to young Scots making their way in another world. It’s a simple numbers game to add in almost 800 thousand votes from Scots resident elsewhere in the UK in the hope of boosting the No vote.
One newspaper even sent a reporter to Corby – where many steelworkers migrated for work – in the hope that their sons and daughters would explain why they should have the vote just as soon as they could find Edinburgh on a map. They held a mock Scottish independence referendum in this Northamptonshire town in 2014 – 414 voted NO, and just 162 YES. They also voted 2 to 1 for Brexit. Just the kind of voters Messrs Neil and Gove would cherish.
Compare and contrast the Scottish Government insisting that English born folk living here should all be on the register despite a majority having voted No last time round. (Though I suspect a fair few won’t again.) The salient fact is that none of this should be about ethnicity – it’s about our future and who has the right to shape it.
And nobody is more relevant in this context than the young Scots who will be doing that shaping when the rest of us are pushing up the daisies. Not at all incidentally, the youngest demographic is the most enthusiastic about independence.
There are Scots born folk all over the globe. The Scottish diaspora often remains enthusiastic about setting up Caledonian Societies, running country dance classes, orchestrating annual “highland games” and bowing to no one in their ability to recall whole chunks of Burns. In fact they will do almost anything to laud the traditions of the auld country except for living in it.
I can just about live with New York’s Tartan Week even if one of the founding fathers was a Southern Republican senator with dubious views on racial segregation. It at least has a contemporary emphasis on boosting Scottish trade.
It doesn’t mean that Scots born but now committed Americans should decide our future any more than Scots born ex-pats quaffing their whisky and irn bru in southern Spain. There is a logic and clarity in having the Referendum franchise mirror the normal electoral one whatever the would be gerrymandering tribes might argue.
And gerrymandering is exactly what they’re about. They may lack the bombast of Trump and the latter’s cavalier regard for the laws of the land. Yet make no mistake, they are already in full campaign mode and the manufactured debate over voting is just an extension of their current ambitions to dilute devolution into impotent irrelevance.
If you can bear it, the website of the Secretary of State for Scotland is quite instructive and has not changed since posted in 2014. It says, and I quote: “The UK government is not neutral on the issue of the referendum. It has a clear policy that it wishes to see Scotland remain part of the UK.”
And it adds: “The civil service’s role is to support the elected government of the day and implement its policies. While the referendum is politically contentious, it is correct that civil servants carry out their duties on this issue as they would any other government policy – this applies equally to policy and media work, including social media.”
You might think someone would have sought to update the site. But then, if you’re expecting another referendum vote, why bother?
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL 7.9.2020