Allan Massie: No place at the ballot box for expatriate Scots

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Even if you’re directly descended from William Wallace, but live outside Scotland, forget voting on your country’s future

So WE know, more or less, when the vote will take place, even if we don’t yet know which questions will be asked. But who will be allowed to vote? Everyone, obviously, who is at present on the electoral roll (and still alive in 2014).

However, if Alex Salmond has his way, as he usually does, 16- and 17-year-olds will also be given the opportunity to have their say on Scotland’s future. This would of course require a revision of the electoral roll, which means, I suppose, that the decision regarding them must be made a year or so before the vote takes place.

There are good reasons why the change should be made. The first, and most obvious one, is that they will be affected by the decision. Indeed, it may make more difference to them than it will to those of us who have passed the biblical allotted span of 70. They will certainly live longer with the consequences.

This isn’t an argument for denying us oldies the vote, even on the grounds that some of us may already be failing, and some will be in the grave, before negotiations over the detail of independence are complete – if, that is, the majority should go that way. We are entitled to be consulted and even to bring to bear all our supposedly mature wisdom. So-called primitive tribes respect the experience and sagacity of their elders and there is happily no suggestion that we shouldn’t do likewise. I merely make the point that 16- and 17-year-olds have more of a stake in the future than we oldies have.

You might of course remark that this is equally true of ten-year-olds and even babes in arms. But you have to have a cut-off point, and 16 seems reasonable. At that age you are allowed to leave school. You are allowed to join the Army. You are allowed to marry and assume the responsibilities of an adult. Admittedly you are not allowed to drive a car or buy a packet of cigarettes or pint of beer – actions which in the bizarre view of our political class require a greater degree of responsibility than marrying or casting a vote on the future of Scotland.

But then it would be ridiculous to demand much in the way of consistency or even sense from our rulers. We must be content with such as we can get.

So we must accept that it is reasonable for our rulers to decree that a 16-year-old is sufficiently mature to vote on the constitutional future of our country, but far too immature to be allowed to buy cigarettes or a can of lager.

What about expatriate Scots? Some of those working abroad on short-term contracts still appear, I assume, on the electoral roll and will therefore have a vote. But many will not, no matter how lively their interest in the future of Scotland. (Is Sir Sean Connery, I wonder, among these unfortunates?)

There are others who live beyond our borders, but who have the intention of returning home when they retire. Such people will be denied the opportunity to vote; it will be for others to decide whether the Scotland to which they mean to return will be an independent country or still part of the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, English people who live and work in Scotland but who intend on their retirement to return to the warmer south – to Bournemouth or Torquay for example – will have polling cards to mark. I don’t know how many Scots there are whose work has taken them to England, but I would guess that the number is well up into six figures – and this refers only to those born and raised here, not to second, or third, generation Anglo-Scots who still support Scotland at football and rugby.

All these people may think of themselves as Scottish – what used to be Fleet Street is full of them, including many who learned their trade on this newspaper – but there is no intention of giving Scots who live south of the Border a vote. At least Scots working in the media will have their say – and many will give their views clearly and loudly. But no polling-card will come through their letter-box.

This, my Nationalist friends may think, is just what they deserve. As you sow, so shall you reap, and they are guilty of the cardinal sin of voting with their feet and committing themselves to the United Kingdom by the manner in which they have pursued their careers. Living out of Scotland, they have forfeited the right to vote in a referendum which will determine Scotland’s future. A few may cannily have kept, or recently acquired, a domicile in Scotland and so may appear on the electoral roll here. But most, probably, will not have done so.

They may be 100 per cent Scottish. They may care passionately about Scotland’s future, but as far as eligibility to vote in Mr Salmond’s referendum goes, they are non-persons, even non-Scots. Many, but by no means all, are likely to be Unionists, which is of course an excellent reason for denying them a vote on Scotland’s future. Yet even a life-long Nationalist will be in the same boat if dwelling among the Sassenachs.

Of course it is much simpler to restrict the vote to those who are on the Scottish electoral roll, but, since Mr Salmond and his followers continually insist that independence is a matter for the Scottish people to decide, it is somewhat arbitrary to decree that only those who live or have a domicile in Scotland are to be considered as belonging to the Scottish people.

A Scot who happens to live in London is entitled to feel aggrieved to find that he or she is regarded as being non-Scottish while an Englishman, Irishman, Pole or Pakistani living in Scotland is held, for the purposes at least of Mr Salmond’s referendum, to be a member of that great clan designated the Scottish people.

But there it is. You are a Scot if you live in Scotland, no matter what your antecedents are. But you are not a Scot if you live in England, even if you were born and brought up in Scotland and can trace your Scots ancestry back to Robert the Bruce or Robert Burns. Accordingly, whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom or becomes an independent state is none of your business.