22 June 2021

If there is another referendum, Scots throughout the UK must get a say


Of all the things I thought of when I left Edinburgh in the summer of 2014 to take up a new job in London, the fact that years later I would feel like I had emigrated wasn’t one of them. Despite leaving just a few weeks before Indy Ref, I didn’t feel like I was abandoning the cause, the No campaign or my beloved country. In my mind, I was simply moving to another part of it, demonstrating in real terms how great it was to be part of one United Kingdom.

Yet in the years that followed I have witnessed, both up close and from afar, how fractured Scotland has become, and how intolerant many of my compatriots are of my decision to further my career elsewhere in the UK. In the dreaded England, no less! How very dare I. 

Don’t get me wrong, I had experienced my fair share of animosity and contempt for my political beliefs even before leaving Scotland: from the lovely gentleman who ripped up a Better Together leaflet and threw it in my face calling me “Tory Scum”. Or the charming young man in the supermarket on the outskirts of Edinburgh telling me to “fuck off back to England” when he decided my accent wasn’t Scottish enough, even though I was born in Fife and lived in West Lothian.

But recently it’s been even worse, and I can fully understand the reluctance of some to avoid any public expression of their feelings. For a long time now, those who dare not support the separatist cause have been “cancelled” and dismissed as not being “true Scots”. God forbid a Scot living in England – you’re a traitor and you are simply not worthy of a say in the future of your country.

As well as an intensifying animosity between the different independence camps, the last seven years has been characterised by a sense of profound deja vu, with the same arguments being rehashed over and over, as if September 18, 2014 had never happened.

This week we have another making headlines: who should be eligible to vote in a second referendum?

According to various papers, Cabinet ministers are urging Boris Johnson to get on the front foot by expanding the franchise to Scots living elsewhere in the UK.

We saw the same question about who should get the vote In the run up to 2014 referendum. Only those residing in Scotland? People born in Scotland but residing elsewhere in the world? Everyone in the UK?

At the same time, the SNP was demanding the franchise should also include 16 and 17-year-olds, who were considered more likely to favour the separatist movement. Instead of negotiating a tit-for-tat exchange, the Cameron government capitulated to both demands and the agreement reached was anyone residing in Scotland, aged 16 or over could vote.  

Nicola Sturgeon is aghast at the suggestion that Scots who live in other parts of the UK should have a say over the future of their own country, and claims unionists are trying to “rig” a future referendum. Her position isn’t all that surprising, mind you. Around 800,000 people who were born in Scotland now live in England and up to 50,000 live in Wales. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the majority of them would be pro-union. Including those people might well push a Yes vote out of the SNP’s reach, so they’ll do their damndest to stop it happening.

For a leader and a party who portray themselves as paragons of virtue compared to the nasty Tories, Sturgeon and the SNP are remarkably comfortable marginalising and disenfranchising their own compatriots. The warm, fuzzy image they cultivate is, frankly, bollocks. I for one have never felt as unwelcome anywhere as I do in my own country right now.

The thing is, I have felt my own Scottishness slipping away in the years since I moved to England. My accent has dissipated ever so slightly, I rarely host or attend a Burns Supper anymore (although I do still love haggis), and I avoid being drawn too much on the issue of independence, which really should have been put to bed in 2014.

But none of this is down to living in England, it’s because of the Scottish Nationalists making a mockery of my country and shaming me into hiding my identity. Why would I want to wave a flag which has been usurped by intolerant bullies, intent on silencing people who hold an opinion different to theirs?

That said, I still visit my family in Scotland regularly, and hope one day to move back there with my own family, take them to Murrayfield or The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle, where I’d inevitably end up welling up with pride at the first sound of the bagpipes. Just because I live in England now, why should I not get a say in the future of my country? Why is my opinion less valid than someone who may not even consider themselves to be Scottish? Why is my patriotism less legitimate than someone else’s nationalism?

More to the point, we have the obvious precedent of UK citizens abroad voting in the Brexit referendum in 2016. So if (and that’s a very big if) there has to be another referendum on the future of Scotland, damned right I want a say in it (and Ruth Davidson would make a fine leader for the pro-union side, incidentally).

And for all her bluster, it’s Sturgeon who would be the one “rigging” a future referendum by denying hundreds of thousands of Scots access to democracy. Personally, living in England has done nothing to change my belief that Scotland is a stronger, more prosperous place in the UK than it would be with the SNP’s economically illiterate, anti-English fantasy of independence – and I dare say many of my compatriots south of the border agree.

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Robyn Staveley is Head of Communications at the Centre for Policy Studies.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.