Molly Pollock looks at who is a Scot in the wake of Westminster threatening to take over the franchise the Scottish Parliament passed with a two thirds majority
The Scots are a mongrel nation, as most nations are. We are a mixture of peoples born here and those who travelled and made their homes here in centuries past and in more recent times. It’s that mixture of peoples, traits and characteristics that makes us who we are – the people who inhabit Scotland today, modern Scots.
As Bashir Ahmad, the first Scottish Asian and Muslim MSP in the Scottish Parliament said:
“it isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation”
In February 2020 the Scottish parliament passed a bill, for the first time requiring a super-majority of two-thirds of the 129 members elected, that extended the right to vote in the Scottish Parliament and local government elections. The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act extended voting rights to all foreign nationals with leave to remain, including all those granted refugee status. It also extended candidacy rights to foreign nationals with indefinite leave to remain, and to those with pre-settled status.
Michael Russell, then Constitution Secretary, said the passing of the bill
“reflects the reality of modern Scotland: a nation committed to robustly meeting our duties to the treaties that safeguard our human rights, that welcomes those who seek to join our society, and gives a democratic voice to the most marginalised in our communities.”
Many of those people enfranchised by this piece of legislation voted in the May 2021 Holyrood election.
So basically if people live in, and want to make Scotland their home then they are regarded as Scots, or New Scots, or Asian Scots or English Scots, or German Scots, or whatever. They regard themselves as Scots therefore they are welcome here as Scots.
Another power grab
The Tory Westminster government now appears to be considering taking decisions on the voting franchise away from Holyrood, as newspaper headlines today indicate.
“Boris Johnson is being urged to allow Scots living anywhere in the UK to vote in a second independence referendum.”
According to this brief article Cabinet members, desperate to save their precious union, are thought to be pushing Johnson to “toughen up” rules around a potential second independence referendum.
Apparently Johnson is also being urged to appoint Ruth Davidson to a newly created role of constitutional secretary, making her nominal head of the pro-Union campaign. So Better Together will be headed by a baroness (although her introduction into the House of Lords seems to have been delayed), and a politician who gave up on her previous constituents.
The Times also carries the story, saying about 800,000 people born in Scotland now live in England and around 50,000 in Wales – the majority of whom are regarded as being pro union, hence why Tories are desperate to allow them to vote.
Who is a Scot?
So the big question is: how will the UK government define being a Scot?
These articles indicate Tories regard Scottishness as dictated by place of birth, although they recently were at pains to quosh any idea that Scotland was even a country. But what if one or both parents were not Scottish born? Does that still make the person Scottish in Westminster’s eyes? What about children who were born in Scotland to English parents who later moved home to England? Or people who were born in England with one or two Scottish parents? Are they Scottish? What about those who were adopted?
And does this place of birth criteria only apply to Scots living in rUK? What about Scots living elsewhere in the world? Those born in Scotland and those born elsewhere to one or two Scottish parents? They could argue they also have a right to vote on such an important issue in their country of birth. Then there are those born elsewhere in the world to Scottish parents but who have never set foot in Scotland. Are they Scottish?
Then there are the many people from England and elsewhere now living in Scotland. If ethnicity and place of birth are to be the defining factors for a vote in the next independence referendum, obviously coming soon when such discussions are taking place, then English-born, Welsh-born and Northern Irish-born people living in Scotand will be unable to vote. Retirees moving up here from England may not be too keen on being disenfranchised.
A great many civil servants and local government officials would be required to check the credentials of those outwith Scotland wishing to vote at a time when the UK government is struggling to deal with Brexit and Covid. The exhortations being pressed on Johnson are far from straightforward and may well have the opposite impact from that envisaged.
For numerous years Scotland was a country that many of its best people left, some for London, others travelling further afield. But there are indications this trend may now be reversing. A study by the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on Migration and Population, set up in October 2018 to provide independent expert analysis and advice to Scottish Government ministers on migration and population, found that, since mid-2001, people coming to Scotland from other parts of the UK had helped boost the country’s population by 137,000. The report highlights that more people are moving to Scotland from the rest of the UK than are going in the other direction.
Some of these new voters are young, well educated and skilled people, others are retirees moving north to take advantage of Scotland’s health service with its zero charge for prescriptions and good quality of life.
Will these relocators from England, who weren’t born in Scotland, still be able to vote in a referendum – for according to Westminster Tories they won’t be Scots although living here?
Country of birth can hardly be used to define Scots who stay in England and Wales but not those from England who now live in Scotland. Everyone who comes to Scotland and makes their home here is, according to the Scottish Government, Scottish and entitled to vote in Holyrood elections. But if Westminster grabs control of the referendum franchise then that could change.
Scottishness cannot be defined by one criteria in Scotland and another in rUK. If it is, then expect the courts to be clogged.
To get an Irish passport you need to have had an Irish grandparent. If the Westminster government was to apply this as a criteria for Scottishness then half the world would be clamouring to vote.
So, who is a Scot and who should be able to vote in the Scottish independence referendum?
As Bashir Ahmad said: “it isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation”
Scotland as a nation is going towards independence. Only those directly involved with this decision, the people who live and work in Scotland, should have a say in determining that future.