The electorate for the referendum could have been bigger, and there could have been more options on the ballot paper, so why weren't there?by Peter Riddell / September 10, 2014 / Leave a comment
Why can’t emigrant Scots vote?
Only some Scots will be able to vote in the referendum on the future of their country of birth on 18th September. Roughly 800,000 people who were born in Scotland will not able to vote because they live elsewhere. This is equivalent to nearly a fifth of the 4.2m who will be able to vote and who include a sizeable minority of people who were born outside Scotland, not only in England, but also in the rest of the European Union. The contrast is infuriating many Scottish expatriates who have left their home country to seek jobs elsewhere.
The explanation is simply that electoral registration is based on the principle of current residence and not of birth. There has so far been no separate category of Scottish citizens, and there are no records of where Scottish-born people live. The practical and financial implications of trying to include all Scottish born wherever they lived would have been enormous and would have opened up a much wider debate on electoral registration and citizenship. If Scotland does become independent these issues may have to be addressed especially if Scotland wants a different immigration policy from the rump UK.
The qualification for voting in the referendum is the same as those able to vote in Scottish Parliamentary and local elections, with the exception that the qualifying age is 16, not 18. It consists of British citizens resident in Scotland, regardless of where they were born– plus Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland who have leave to remain in the UK, or do not require such leave, citizens of the Irish Republic and other EU countries resident in Scotland, and various service or crown personnel working elsewhere who are registered to vote in Scotland. The inclusion of the local government franchise broadens those eligible to EU citizens.
Why isn’t “devo max” on the ballot?
One of the many ironies of the referendum campaign is over the origin of the single question on independence. In the months leading up to the Edinburgh agreement of October 2012 which set the terms of the referendum between the UK and Scottish governments, there was lengthy debate about including a further option, on giving the Scottish Parliament more taxation and spending powers, what is commonly known as “devo max”, even though it takes more shapes and forms.
The inclusion of that choice was pressed by the Scottish Nationalists, who favoured independence and opposed “devo max”, while the UK Government, who supported an extension of devolution, preferred the simple question of separation or not on independence.
David Cameron wanted a clear decision on independence but said on a visit to Edinburgh in February 2012 that, “when the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further. And, yes, that does mean considering what further powers could be devolved.” The emphasis then was only after the referendum. That only changed earlier this year as the three unionist parties produced their separate, and very different, proposals for more devolution. The second question was kept on the table during the negotiations by the SNP partly as a fall-back position and partly to keep up the pressure.
This was tied up with an argument on the authorisation for a referendum. The legal advice in London was that the Scottish Government did not have the power to organise a referendum on their own. So there would have to be agreement with London, using what was known as a Section 30 order under the original devolution act of 1998. The resulting negotiations led to agreement on a single question and a referendum which both sides pledged to accept.