Scottish independence: SNP dismisses expat voting call

From Democracy Live: Labour MSP Elaine Murray leads a debate on the independence referendum franchise

Scottish ministers have dismissed calls to give Scots living outside Scotland a vote in the independence referendum.

Labour MSP Elaine Murray said it was "massively unfair" they should be stopped from having their say in such an important decision.

She highlighted the case of James Wallace, from Dumfries, who has been campaigning on the issue.

Bruce Crawford, minister for government strategy, said it was not practical to make such an arrangement.

The issue, which was debated at the Scottish Parliament, was also raised on the floor of the House of Lords, where peers heard calls for the whole of the UK to get a say on the independence vote.

Under the Scottish government's current referendum proposals, non-resident Scots will not be eligible to vote on Scotland's constitutional future.

Currently, anyone eligible to be on the electoral register in Scotland will be entitled to vote in a possible autumn 2014 referendum.

Mr Wallace, 23, started a website - Let Wallace Vote - to bring the issue to the public's attention.

James Wallace plea

James Wallace

"I, along with 800,000 Scots will not be able to vote in the Scottish Referendum on Independence.

"I was born in Scotland, I have lived there for my whole existence of 23 years, it will always be home and if Scotland becomes independent I will have to get a Scottish passport. But I have no say on the future of my country. Surely this is unfair?

"In February I (like so many others) am moving to London for a job. Under the rules recently published that will mean I will be unable to vote

"Please, I beg you, help me gain the basic right to vote on the most important vote I will ever have in my life."

The Edinburgh University law graduate, who launched his campaign while travelling in Thailand, told the BBC Scotland news website: "For me, it is devastating that I will not be able to have a say in the future of my country and homeland.

"I will be working in London for a few years which will allow me to qualify in both English and Scottish law.

"I like many others go abroad to learn and will eventually return with that knowledge to improve my country."

Ms Murray, a Dumfriesshire MSP who brought a backbench debate on the issue to Holyrood, said: "Scots working outwith Scotland at the time of UK general elections are allowed to vote, so why should they be banned from voting in one of the most important decisions in Scotland in over 300 years?

"It seems massively unfair. The fact is, with youth unemployment in Scotland rising, more young Scots are being forced to look outwith Scotland for jobs.

"It seems hugely unfair that they should be stopped from having a say in Scotland's future."

The Westminster government has insisted Holyrood does not have the authority to hold a legal referendum and will require its permission, but the Scottish government disagrees.

What are the current voting rules?

The Scotland Act says that someone wanting to vote in a Scottish Parliament election must be;

  • entitled to vote as electors at a local government election
  • and is registered on the register of local government electors

For Scots living abroad, the rules state;

  • if you had been registered to vote in the UK in the previous 15 years you can remain on the election register
  • that allows you to vote in UK parliamentary or European parliament election
  • it does not give you the right to vote in local elections or in elections to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Ms Murray urged SNP ministers, in their talks with the UK government, to take forward her issue along with the Nationalists' calls to lower the referendum voting age to 16.

Announcing a consultation on the independence vote last week, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said he was proposing that the same electorate should vote in the referendum as a Scottish Parliament election.

Mr Crawford told the Scottish Parliament: "Hundreds of thousands of people born in Scotland now live elsewhere in the UK and beyond.

"The registration and validation of entitlement to vote would add significant complexity to the task of electoral professionals in organising and running the referendum."

Mr Crawford also said the principle that referenda should be determined by residency was "internationally accepted".

He added: "There is some evidence that the decisions from the UN human rights committee that the international community might question the legitimacy of a referendum if the franchise is not territorial."

In the Lords, Labour's Baroness Symons called for the whole United Kingdom to be included in any plebiscite.

During question time, she asked Advocate General for Scotland Lord Wallace: "The break up of the United Kingdom will affect all of us throughout the United Kingdom.

"Will we all have an equal right to have our views known and why not through a referendum?"

'Arrogant' claim

Lord Wallace, a former deputy first minister of Scotland, said only two of the 11 referendums since 1973 had been nationwide.

"We believe that whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom is a matter for Scotland and I don't think it would be good for relationships within the United Kingdom if they are being prevented from doing so by other parts of the United Kingdom," he said.

Former Commons speaker Lord Martin, a long-serving Glasgow MP, said he was a strong supporter of maintaining the Union and said the best thing Prime Minister David Cameron could do was to "stop appearing to be arrogant in his interventions - it does not help those of us who want to keep the United Kingdom retained".

According to the Scotland Act, the electorate for a Scottish Parliament election must be someone who is;

  • entitled to vote as electors at a local government election in an electoral area falling wholly or partly within the constituency
  • and is registered on the register of local government electors at an address within the constituency.

For Scots living abroad, the current rules stipulate that if you had been registered to vote in the UK in the previous 15 years you can make an annual declaration allowing you to remain on the electoral register in the constituency where you were last registered while living in the UK.

Once registered, you can vote at any UK parliamentary or European parliament election which occurs while you are on the register.

However, you cannot vote in local government elections or in elections associated with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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