Scottish independence: Swinney defends referendum EU voters

image captionMr Swinney said the franchise issue was important

Finance Secretary John Swinney has defended plans to let EU nationals living in Scotland vote in the independence referendum.

Mr Swinney said the same rules which applied to the last Scottish Parliament election would be used.

That would mean about 60,000 EU nationals living in Scotland being eligible to vote.

But hundreds of thousands of Scots who are not living in the country would not get a vote under the plans.

The Scottish government has begun a consultation on an independence referendum in autumn 2014.

It has been calculated that under the rules proposed, 3.99 million people would be eligible to vote and the SNP wants to extend the franchise to about 125,000 16 and 17 year olds.

However, some politicians have called for the Westminster elections to be used as a model for the referendum.

British citizens living overseas can vote in UK parliamentary elections for up to 15 years in the constituency they were registered in before leaving the UK.

On the BBC's Sunday Politics show in Scotland, Mr Swinney was asked whether it was reasonable to let EU nationals vote when 750,000 Scots living south of the border would not be able to vote in the referendum.

The finance secretary, who did not dispute the figures, told the programme: "The franchise issue is an important one for the referendum and the approach that we have taken is to essentially mirror the franchise that elected the Scottish Parliament in May last year and the franchise which led to the referendum in 1997, which established the Scottish Parliament."

He added: "Now that does include 60,000 EU nationals living in Scotland but many of these individuals, I can think of constituents of my own who are EU nationals, have been living in Scotland for 10, 20, 30, 40 years, creating opportunities and wealth in Scotland as their home."

Born in Scotland

The finance secretary said: "The one difference we would put forward in the franchise is that we would want to extend it to 16 and 17 year olds to ensure that the young people whose future is entwined with the issues around the referendum have an opportunity to express their opinion."

The SNP government proposes that the vote should be open to British and Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland and armed forces or civil service personnel serving in the UK or overseas.

EU nationals living in Scotland who want to vote are required to resister with their local electoral registration office.

Mr Swinney made his comments in response to a Commons question raised by Dunfermline and West Fife Labour MP Thomas Docherty.

Mr Docherty asked why a "French student studying for a year at Edinburgh University" would be allowed to vote when someone born in Scotland but now living elsewhere in the UK could not.

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman David McLetchie called for the franchise that was used for the UK parliamentary elections to be put in place for the independence referendum, "then the EU nationals would not be able to vote, but certain expats would".

A spokesman for Bruce Crawford, the Scottish government's parliamentary business minister, said Mr Docherty was "in danger of ending up on the same side as Tory Lords such as Michael Forsyth in terms of the process of the referendum, as well as the substance of being anti-independence".