Brian Monteith: Scots in England should get vote

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Who should get to vote in this independence referendum? It’s an important question for it will determine the future of all of us living in Scotland – but more than that it will mean just as much for those Scots who are temporarily outside our natural boundaries.

And who are Scots these days anyway? I am perfectly comfortable with the idea that those people from other shores that have chosen to come to Scotland to make their lives here should have a vote. They have, to all intents and purposes become civic Scots. Great. It is an endorsement of Scotland (and possibly also of Britain, by the way). If people wish to uphold our values and culture (however difficult it is to define either) then we should welcome them and work with them – and they with us.

Where I lose the plot is on the idea that people that were born, educated and raised here – who then express their natural right to join the armed services and go abroad, or who join a Scottish company and are posted overseas, or decide to work for a Scottish banking, insurance or other finance company and are sent to London – could be denied a vote in the future of their own country. A country they may wish to come back to when the opportunity presents itself or the right job becomes available.

But no, the Scottish Government has already decided – and far too meekly David Cameron agreed (without a fight) – that Scots not in Scotland should not have a vote on whether or not Scotland – their own country – should remain part of the United Kingdom – their own nation state.

It is absurd and it is unjust.

I raise this point more out of disappointment and despair than anger, because it did not need to be this way. It was not beyond the wit of the Scottish Government to provide a way for those who considered themselves Scots to be able to register to vote in the referendum despite their location outside Scotland. I’m not talking about the likes of Rod Stewart who was born in London with a dad who was a Leither and put a photo of Gordon Smith on his son’s wall. Rod Stewart is an associate Scot in the civic sense, he is part of our wider family, the Scottish Disapora, but I would not expect Rod Stewart would want a vote in the referendum.

But there are many who would, and have far better claim to vote but who have been denied it quite intentionally by the SNP government. I know one set of twin brothers who after being born, educated and raised in Edinburgh went their separate ways. One is now in Glasgow the other in London, they are both in regular contact, they both visit their family in Edinburgh and consider themselves Scottish. Only one will have a vote in the referendum – the one in Glasgow.

And yet it is highly likely that the one in London will end up back in Scotland. I know this because the two men are my own sons and it is exactly how I behaved.

Born of Scots, raised and educated in Edinburgh, I then went to London to work in the House of Commons in the 80s – like Alex Salmond did, only I didn’t go home to Scotland at weekends. Without British taxpayers meeting the cost I had to find my own fare home.

It will come as no surprise to me that my London-based son will want to return to Edinburgh to start and raise a family. After all, it is not as if he has ever left the land of his birthright, his citizenship and his nationality – he is British in all three respects. He has done nothing wrong in choosing to work in London, but as a Scot in England he has no say in his future identity or that of his children.

And we know why this outcome is so, for just as Alex Salmond calculated (mistakenly) that 16- and 17-year-olds might vote Yes and should therefore be given the vote, he also decided that Scots outside Scotland would vote No and should be prevented from so doing.

I say all of this for this week our most senior of judges denied a vote in the referendum to two convicted murderers who brought a case before the courts, believing that they were entitled to a vote under Human Rights legislation.

Thank goodness the judges saw through their legal arguments – for had they not we would have had the even more absurd situation whereby law-abiding Scots who happen to be outside Scotland at the time of the referendum would be denied a vote but convicted law-breakers that are at Her Majesty’s pleasure would be able to vote.

If only the judges had been given a greater say over the whole franchise – and not just this test case on the margins – we might have obtained justice for all Scots, especially those that have clean criminal records and have not committed a crime, but just happen to live in Liverpool, Ludlow or Leeds.