I have some sympathy with wee James Wallace but only to a point.
Yes, he’s Scots born, bred and educated. Yes, life sucks that he has to pack his bags and head to where the streets are, it would seem, still pave with gold to find gainful employment (it was always thus). And yes, it would be a bummer for him to miss out on a vote in the referendum during his temporary sojourn.
But what if it isn’t a temporary move? Hard to believe I know but some folk move south temporarily and never manage to find the high or low road hame. For a whole host of reasons. Often involving lurve.
We are currently in the procedury part of the referendum process. Think on it like a chess game. The board is set up, both sides have made their opening moves and are beginning to set out their strategy. Currently, it is only of interest to the players and afficianados (or political anoraks as we are usually known).
But these cagey opening gambits are throwing up some big issues, not least on who will get to vote.
Professor John Curtice popped up – as he does – on Call Kaye on BBC Scotland this morning to explain how entitlement to vote might work.
If the referendum is run to UK General election rules, everyone registered to vote in Scotland who is a UK citizen and also citizens of Ireland and Commonwealth countries, will get to vote. But so too will ex pats resident overseas for less than 15 years, if they want to. EU “nationals” will not be able to vote under these rules.
If, however, the referendum is run to Scottish Parliament election rules, everyone registered to vote in Scotland who is a UK citizen will get to vote. And so too will Irish and Commonwealth citizens and EU nationals. But ex pats won’t.
Suddenly you can see why it matters which franchise rules apply to the referendum. Given the amount of energy the Conservatives put into securing the ex pat vote in General Elections, you can see why they might think that allowing them to vote in the independence referendum might provide succour for the Union. Traditionally, though largely anecdotally, the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of UK citizens who live across the globe have been considered to be Conservative voters. But as with Labour, for the purposes of the referendum, this may backfire. How engaged will the English pensioners on the Costas be in whether or not Scotland becomes independent? Not very, I’d hazard. But the Scots diaspora, who have a rose-tinted view of *hame* and a patriotic sense that often outstrips that of the people who actually live at home, might be very energised to use their vote. For country rather than Union.
But supposing there was a risk of a big anti-independence ex pat vote weighing in, it is clearly one the SNP won’t want to take. Hence, the insistence on this being a vote made in Scotland and delivered by Scotland by the Scottish Government. Although admittedly, this is but one small consideration. The main one is probably the instinctive need to stand up for Scottish interests and play the grievance card. Which is why – and I might be wrong – this might be one of the chess pieces the SNP allows to be taken.
For, the diaspora vote aside, Irish citizens (probably, predominantly a pro-indie vote) and EU nationals (Poles? Lithuanians? others who fought hard to secure their independence?), as well as Commonwealth citizens (Aussies? Canadians? a smattering of families from Caribbean countries? Pakistanis?) would probably all lean towards supporting independence and would have a vote whichever election rules apply. And as we know, the SNP leaves very little to chance. If it hasn’t already done so, make no mistake, there will be a staffer beavering away at working out how many and from which nationality are resident in Scotland and scouring the internet looking for research on their voting patterns and trends. In actuality, whichever rules apply, the outcome will be largely the same from the SNP’s perspective.
Thus, we can expect a few more defensive moves, and then the issue might be allowed to fall in an exchange of less important pieces.
The other consideration is that some ex pats may indeed discover the high or low road home before the referendum. For some, it will matter that much. Moreover, we will have the Homecoming jamboree which – if I was the SNP – should make a big pitch for all of them to come home permanently in order to have their say on Scotland’s day of destiny. It will be interesting (if anyone gets round to collating and publishing the data) if there is a referendum bounce on voter registration in 2014. The SNP would like that.
But as for Sir Sean? Well, like wee James Wallace, he’s stuffed, sadly. Under both sets of rules. An ex pat for too long and unless he has taken out Bahamian citizenship on the sly, no qualification under the other nationalities. As a UK citizen living abroad, he won’t get a vote.
Unless he decides that it’s time to come home: now wouldn’t that be a filip for the pro-independence campaign in the last few months?
(PS the link to the risible sovereignty piece is simply because it provided the most straight forward, clearly laid out explanation of who gets to vote in what elections. It is in no way an endorsment of the doggerel therein and if anyone can find a better link, please do and I’ll change it)