Being a Scot I have been enthused by the recent press coverage granted to the proposed referendum on independence. Naturally, one cannot help but become caught up in the emotion of it all, and feel the surge of almost nostalgic pride for Scotland. Putting emotions aside it seems clear that this peaceful push for independence, whilst perhaps a reasonable model, lacks coherence and legitimacy. The current referendum proposal lacks substance and has potential to be divisive to the entire Scottish community. I do not suggest that Scots should be denied the right to Walzerian self-determination, but believe the present proposal goes some way to denying such a right.
The proposal put forward by the Scottish Government makes for an interesting read to those Scots who do not presently reside in their ancestral homeland. While the SNP claim that they are driven by a democratic desire to enable Scots to have the power of self-determination, the proposal smacks of political manoeuvring that will exclude a large section of Scottish society. It may be electorally functional to maintain the same electorate as was eligible to vote in previous Scottish elections, but this has bizarre consequences. The criteria for eligibility to vote entitles EU citizens to vote in the referendum provided they have resided in Scotland for a sufficient period of time and are enrolled on the electoral register. Such criteria enables a German colleague of mine to vote on the future of Scotland whilst not having firm intentions to stay. Scots who have chosen to pursue Higher Education in England, however, will not be eligible to vote should they be registered in their university town (the author being case in point). This is a strange form of democracy that dilutes the notion of self-determination by excluding members of the particular national group seeking self-determination, whilst affording voting rights to those who are only temporary residents. This is particularly potent when considering those who have enrolled in full-time higher education outside of Scotland are excluded, whilst there are those residing in Scotland for the purpose of education alone are eligible to vote.
The proposal also seeks to extend the vote to those aged 16 and 17. While there have been long-standing debates over the extension of the franchise, it seems baffling to those who do not presently reside within the borders of their homeland that people deemed too young to be able to judge the hazards of alcohol or tobacco are eligible to determine whether said land should sever itself from the rest of the UK. The entire proposal is politically insensitive and reflects the populist posturing of the current Scottish Government – extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds is in itself a political act that could win favour for the pro-independence camp. This brings into question the fairness of such a referendum. While the content of the proposal itself remains questionable the debate over the implications of independence cannot truly be considered.
Where self-determination is concerned it seems clear that the current proposal has potential to exclude vast swathes of Scots who have a vested interest in the future of their nation. While the current rules regarding the referendum are questionable, the peaceful route taken to secure secession is most definitely something that represents the views of all Scots. The question now turns towards the EU – will a Scotland under the EU be any different to Scotland under Westminster? It is too soon to tell what the implications for Scotland would be, but also what the implications will be for the EU as a whole, given the secessionist movements in the Basque territories and in Cataluña.
For more information on the debate see the Guardian.
Or for more on the discussion on ex-pats’ voting rights see the Scotsman.