The referendum of 2014 seems a long time ago now, and reading the political runes suggests we may be about to do it all again. I was Clerk of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee in the years preceding the last big vote, so I saw the process unfurl from the inside. I suspect we’ll see a lot of the same arguments rehashed, but there’s one in particular which touched on me personally.
I count myself a Scot. I was born in England, but my parents are both Scottish (Prestwick and Bellshill), their families are Scottish for generations back, and I spent nine of my 39 years in education in Scotland. I even own tartan trews.
I’d like to think, therefore, that I have a stake in the future of the country (my parents even more so). But none of us was eligible to vote in the 2014 referendum, and I doubt we’ll be able to in its next iteration. That seems, to me, unfair.
I saw how the process worked last time. The SNP chose to use the local government franchise for the referendum, though they extended it to 16- and 17-year-olds, in the belief, which was not borne out by polling, that this group would be more inclined to support independence.
Now any system inevitably contains anomalies. But it surely seems odd that a Scot living in, say, England, was given no say, whereas an Italian living in Pollokshields got to vote?
Ah yes, some will cry, but, to reverse the old slogan, no representation without taxation. The Italian is paying into the future of Scotland, while the exiled Scot is not.
I’m not so sure that works. It’s a defensible argument for national and general elections, which are decisions made for four or five years. A referendum on independence is different. It’s a fundamental choice about the destiny of the country for tens or hundreds of years.
It would surely not be beyond the wit of man to extend the franchise to those who could meet certain criteria; for example, being born in Scotland, or having two Scottish parents, or four Scottish grandparents?
If you can play rugby for Scotland, or fight in a Scottish regiment, it doesn’t seem unreasonable you can vote on its political future.
Politicians are very fond of talking about holding “national conversations”. Surely we must have the widest and most inclusive possible ahead of a referendum on independence?
When it suits them, like on the awful Tartan Day, the SNP is very fond of invoking the spirit of the Scottish diaspora and celebrating Scottish heritage. It seems, though, that when it comes to the cold, hard calculation of the ballot box, it’s very much a matter of “Your name’s not down, you’re not coming in.”
We can do better than that. We can reach across borders. In fact, we have to do better than that. The future of Scotland deserves better.
Eliot Wilson is former House of Commons Clerk. He lives in Sunderland, tweets as @SybariteLooks and blogs at http://reflectionsofasybarite.blogspot.co.uk