As agreed in the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, the Scottish Independence referendum is only open to people who live in Scotland and with good reason. Can you imagine the legal nightmare involved in trying to decide precisely which expats are eligible? Yet this same nightmare is just what James Wallace wants.
The first thing I ought to comment on is the name of his petition, 'Let Wallace Vote'. Why isn't it called 'Let James Vote' or 'Let Mr Wallace Vote'? Surely the voter is supposed to be someone you're on first name terms with like Joe the Plumber during Obama's election campaign some years ago. I can only wonder if this is his way of giving the title a Scottish tone since Wallace has obvious connotations in a debate about Scottish independence i.e. Scottish patriots.
Let Wallace vote
Now I don't question his patriotism for Scotland. And Mr Wallace I'm sure is a nice guy, possibly the sort I'd want to have a bit of Premier League footy banter with at the local pub, as long as he doesn't talk about Chelsea (I'm a Liverpool fan you see)! In all sincerity it's good that he has found a job in London, always reassuring to know that there are plenty of home-grown graduates who have made it far and wide. If I was one of his family I would be very glad for him in having found a desired career. But Mr Wallace lives in London and will be there indefinitely which means he is not directly contributing to Scottish society, he is not paying taxes in Scotland, he is not subject to the many issues affecting Scotland which may or may not affect the south of England and won't be anytime in the near future. So why should he have the vote when democracy is about people being able to make decisions about the very communities where they live? He would accept that he has no right to vote in Holyrood elections as he doesn't live there and nor even a referendum for further devolution if Devo-max and not independence had been the Yes option. So there had better be a very very good case for that to be different with the independence referendum.
Which leads us neatly to the question, What is James Wallace' case for wanting the vote? Well to answer the question I should perhaps dissect a little his petition calling on expat Scots to be given the vote. Because it's not that long I thought I might as well copy and paste it here:
I'm James Wallace.
I, along with over one million future Scottish citizens will not be able to vote in the Scottish Referendum on Independence due to take place on 18 September 2014.
I was born in Scotland, all my family live there, I have lived there all my life until I moved to London in 2012 to start my career, I will return. I'm Scottish. if Scotland becomes independent I automatically will become a Scottish citizen but I have no say in this decision. Never before has a vote for independence been based on a franchise like this.
Scotland needs to encourage its workforce to be international, to learn, and to bring this knowledge back to improve our nation. In its history Scots have explored, ventured to new areas in the world and then improved our country. They should not be denied a vote on their future.
I have obtained a legal opinion stating that excluding all non resident Scots is illegal. I have called on the leaders of all parties to come together to ensure that the legality of the referendum cannot be challenged either before or after the independence referendum.
Example: if I lived in New York (or anywhere else in world) I could vote for my Scottish MP in westminster elections. But under these rules would not have a say on whether i get that vote in the future. This makes the referendum franchise rules undemocratic. Fact.
So there it is. James Wallace wants to vote because with Scottish independence he will 'automatically become a Scottish citizen'. He's right - to an extent. Under the plans listed in the White Paper anybody who was born in Scotland before and beyond independence day will be regarded as a Scottish citizen. I would say it's a spiritual prerogative to have the citizenship of the country where you were born. But has James Wallace heard of the right to renounce citizenship if you don't want it? Ah, see my point? You can renounce UK citizenship by politely saying to Teresa May, 'you can take this citizenship of mine and you can shove it up your proverbial backside, preferably before your lot brings back conscription for all healthy male British citizens between 16 and 40'. Likewise you will be able to renounce Scottish citizenship if you so wish. So James, if you don't like being a Scottish citizen then by all means renounce your Scottish citizenship. But why would James Wallace want to give up his Scottish citizenship? Well, possibly he's a little suspicious of Alex Salmond. Oh well, that would be his problem.
But I'm sure he wouldn't renounce his Scottish citizenship, he would embrace it with pride. Like I will too as someone who is NOT Scottish but will be normally resident in Scotland on day one of independence. However, I've only touched on half of James Wallace' paranoia about his citizenship. The other half appears to be a belief that by becoming a Scottish citizen he will then lose his British citizenship, well that's his implication anyway. But how would that work exactly? Would the Met come round to his house in the middle of the night and seize his passport in complete breach of his human rights? Oh but wait a moment, I'm just having a little look at some comments on the campaign's Facebook page and they appear to be saying it's Alex Salmond who wants to take away their UK citizenship! No sorry but that's just taking the piss now. For that to make any sense you're looking at a rather ridiculous Interpol operation!
As is made clear in the white paper the Scottish Government's intention is to let Scottish citizens hold dual citizenship with the UK if they wish. That's hardly Alex Salmond 'wanting to take away people's British citizenship'. As the current rules state any British citizen who wants to hold dual citizenship with another country can do so as long as that country allows it. Again you would have to be questioning Alex Salmond's wish to let people hold dual-citizenship to question that rule applying to Scotland and its citizens.
So then what really is left of James Wallace case for getting the right to vote in this referendum? That he may be returning to Scotland sometime? So what? You may be returning? May be? When? If you haven't got any arrangements made to move back to Scotland how can we know your intentions? How are the Electoral Commission supposed to know? And so what if you're moving there and have family there? I have some family down in Surrey, my maternal Grandmother for one. I would rather there was no prescription charges down there but should I be able to do anything about that through the ballot box? Of course not, I don't live there, it's not my business, it's for my Gran and others like her in England to cast her vote to help get the right government that will abolish prescription charges. It is for my Gran, not me, to elect the councillors that will make the right decisions on a local level in Surrey council. And it is for my Gran, not me, to vote in any local referenda including devolution for Surrey. Of course devolution for Surrey as a wealthy part of London's commuter belt is a little pointless but you get my point. As someone born in Oxfordshire, should I have a vote in a similar referendum down there, one for devolution for Oxfordshire? No I shouldn't because I don't live there! Nor should my Mum, who was born in what is now southwest Greater London, be entitled to vote in the London Mayoral Elections.
The referendum on Scottish independence is about further powers for Scotland albeit the maximum amount of further powers. It is the people living in Scotland who will be directly affected by the result of the referendum. People are not voting in this referendum merely on the idea of national identity or citizenship, they are voting on how empowered they wish to be in the country where they live. What James Wallace wants is for some 500,000 to 1 million people living outside Scotland to decide how empowered people living in Scotland should be. Think about that for one moment. If a majority of say 100,000 over the rest of the voters living in Scotland, feel the best interests for themselves are to have the MSPs they elect to represent them in the Scottish parliament making all of the decisions at a national level that affect them then why should that voice be cancelled out by some 200,000 who are not affected by what goes on in the Scottish parliament who are not represented by and do not elect any MSPs?
Whatever your view on independence many people in Scotland feel this is a fantastic opportunity to be able to live in a country free from the mess of Westminster. It would not be fair that they lose out simply because of people who most likely will be voting No on a rather vague and irrational fear about their supposed citizenship status. Although they will be able to read the Herald and Scotsman online, generally speaking people south of the border, Scots or not, will be a lot less well informed of the debate because there is not going to be the same access to the level of coverage with this referendum that we get north of the border. They won't be getting leaflets through their door, they won't be able to pop along to any public meeting unless they live near the border, they won't be passing Yes or BT stands when out shopping and they won't have STV on their TVs. They can have a valid and strong opinion but it would likely pale into insignificance compared to the minds that are made up north of the border. The Scots south of the border are British citizens living in what will be considered the continuing UK. So what on earth can the reasoning be for them losing that citizenship? That the UK won't allow dual citizenship with their nearest and dearest neighbour while allowing it with all other countries? Well if anything that would sound like little more than revenge and can be challenged in a court of law where the UK government would lose. For sure.
I said I have little sympathy with James Wallace. Well, to be generous I'll add an indefinite article. I do have a little sympathy with James Wallace. It is understandable that he'd love to be part of such an important decision about the country of his birth. Of course he will have strong views on what best for the citizens of Scotland that live there and may have good reasons for those opinions. But he doesn't live in Scotland and far from having to change his citizenship, he will be able to hold Scottish citizenship jointly with UK citizenship. That should be seen as a bonus, a privilege rather than an obligation. So if Mr Wallace wants to choose not to hold Scottish citizenship he will have every right to do so following independence. But why do it through potentially outvoting the resident population of Scotland in their decision about what sort of country they want to live in? The least he should do to make his campaign remotely convincing is to include someone who would vote Yes especially if they are voting Yes for a better future for their family back home. Otherwise his campaign comes across as little more than an attempt at gerrymandering which is no doubt an accusation he's levelling at the Scottish Government!
Also as I touched on at the start Mr Wallace is entering legally dangerous territory since it will still be unfair for some people. Because who on earth do you define as Scottish expats? Yes James Wallace is certainly one of them, he ticks all the boxes in being Scottish other than residency not least because he was born in Scotland. But what about if I myself moved down to England and James Wallace has his way? Would I be allowed to vote? No I wouldn't because I neither live in Scotland nor was born there. Yet I've lived in Scotland longer than possibly than James Wallace has been alive! That's right, if James was born after March 1988 he was born after I moved to Scotland. I moved up when I was only three I spent the majority of my school education in Scotland including all of primary school. I call Galloway my home, before moving to Edinburgh, Newton Stewart was my local community. I still feel it is. I far more naturally take pride in the local talents of where I live than the ones that hail from Oxford where I was born. I've noticed James Wallace having the cheek to comment on the "French people living in Scotland can vote but not Scottish people living in France" like it's big irony. Yes James, that's right, French people living in Scotland can vote in this referendum. But the irony in the first place is that French people are living in Scotland and that Scottish people live in France. Don't tell me you're saying it's unfair that French people generally should have a say in the future of where they live while Scottish people don't have a vote in the future of where they don't live. I actually think that is fair. Because generally speaking French people living in Scotland are going to be working in Scotland, paying their taxes in Scotland, sending their children to school in Scotland, getting NHS treatment in Scotland and so on. What's wrong with French people voting in this referendum?
Oxford, where I was born - lovely city but I don't live there so why should I
For Labour's Elaine Murray MSP to get involved in 'Let Wallace Vote' doesn't do her any favours. She had started supporting this campaign to extend the franchise for this one off occasion to include expats like James Wallace way back when her party were arguing that the electorate should not include 16 and 17 years olds because it should be the same franchise as votes in the Scottish parliamentary elections! They argued that any age extension should be for all elections. If this was Dr Murray's view personally as well then it would have made her downright hypocritical. Why argue for a one-off extension to include people, many of whom are probably well off, who don't live in Scotland getting to vote while arguing that 16 and 17 years olds, many of whom will be facing heavy competition in the jobs market, shouldn't enjoy the one-off extension to the franchise? How could that be fair?
See my point? All I can say to James Wallace is count your blessings, you have a well paid job down there in England, many of us here in Scotland are far less fortunate and we want to be able to vote for change. I know Mr Wallace cares about his own country and the issues his people face in their everyday lives but he should let them decide what's best for themselves. James Wallace has no obligation to replace his British citizenship with a Scottish citizenship, if he doesn't want the latter he can renounce it and just keep UK nationality status. So with the issue of citizenship eliminated this is a decision about how people are goverened in their everyday lives and that is not something that affects Mr Wallace directly any more than it does with the Holyrood elections. So Mr Wallace should not be allowed to vote on the 18th September referendum and if he wants to vote in Scotland he should first find somewhere to live in Scotland.
This referendum must be decided by the people whose everyday lives are in Scotland, the people living in Scotland.