English software engineer Caroline Francis and Polish fund manager Dariusz Sliwinski are preparing to decide the future of their home country: Scotland.
The nation’s Sept. 18 independence vote is open to European Union residents living there, while leaving expatriate James Bond star Sean Connery without a ballot. Even as 800,000 Scots living abroad have no vote, Francis and Sliwinski are among the 17 percent of Scotland’s population born outside the country, many of whom do have a say in the referendum.
“The choice about who gets to vote is significant,” said Francis, 32, who moved to Edinburgh almost 10 years ago and originates from Bristol, southwest England. “I’m glad that I have the right to vote because since I live in Scotland, the outcome could affect my day-to-day life.”
As the arguments intensify over whether to break up the U.K., Francis is among the swathe of voters who reflect three centuries of union with England and four decades of economic integration with Europe.
The referendum is run along similar lines to a local election, so it’s open to residents rather than just British citizens. About 900,000 of the Scottish population were born elsewhere, the latest census shows.
The breadth of nationalities able to participate makes the referendum unique, said Matt Qvortrup, a senior researcher at Cranfield University in England.
In Ireland and Switzerland, which regularly hold plebiscites, non-nationals are excluded because the votes are based on citizenship not residency. Because it’s not a sovereign state, Scotland doesn’t issue its own passports.
“We’ve never seen this before,” said Qvortrup, whose book “Referendums and Ethnic Conflict” is published this month. “You have the broadest possible franchise inside the country, which is unique, but Scots outside the country are excluded.”
Polls show more people want to keep the U.K. intact than break it up, though in most there are enough undecided voters to make it too early to predict the result. The gap over the past six weeks ranged from seven percentage points to 26 points.
A survey by Ipsos MORI for broadcaster STV published March 3 found 69 percent of respondents not born in Scotland prefer to stay in the U.K., with 15 percent planning to vote for independence. The group made up 21 percent of the poll of 1,001 people conducted Feb. 20-25, the report showed.
Connery, a former Edinburgh milkman and longtime supporter of Scottish nationalism, left decades ago and has lived in the Bahamas. The 83-year-old wrote in the New Statesman magazine on March 4 that independence was an opportunity “too good to miss,” though he said he respected the choice was “a matter for the people who choose to work and live there.”
Others are less sanguine about their exclusion. As the campaign heats up, 2,700 expatriate Scots have signed a petition in favor of a judicial review over the way the vote is run, the Sunday Times reported yesterday. It’s based on legal advice that their inability to cast a ballot flouts EU laws on freedom of movement, the newspaper said.
Ian Lang, who served as secretary of state for Scotland in the early 1990s, said in a Jan. 30 speech to the House of Lords that it was a “source of great regret that so many expatriate Scots are disenfranchised in this referendum.” Lang, part of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, said the independence campaign would “destroy so much.”
Where’s My Say?
Jim Campbell, 73, a retired civil servant who hails from Pitlochry, Perthshire, and who has lived in England since 1976, agrees and thinks he should also get the vote.
“People not living in Scotland should have some sort of say,” said Campbell, who resides in Spalding, Lincolnshire, and would vote for the status quo if he could. “It affects everyone in the British Isles so it’s too narrow just to be a Scottish thing. There are loads of English people who live in Scotland who will be given the vote.”
People born in England make up 9 percent of Scotland’s 5.3 million population, or about 470,000 inhabitants, according to the 2011 census. Francis is still to make up her mind on which way to vote and is weighing the pros and cons.
Sliwinski, 51, who moved to Edinburgh in 1997 and raised his two daughters in the city, is persuaded by some of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s arguments for full autonomy.
“Because I’m from outside I have a less emotional approach than people who were born here and my vote, yes or no, will be as rational as I can manage,” said Sliwinski, who covers emerging markets at Midmar Capital in Edinburgh and is naturalized so can vote in U.K. elections also. “An independent, confident Scotland, without a chip on her shoulder might become even more multicultural and inclusive.”
The debate moved to the frontline of British politics over the past month as the U.K. government ruled out Salmond’s plan to share the pound as part of a currency union and warned an independent Scotland faces a jump in borrowing costs.
The nationalists say it’s time Scotland controlled its own finances and took its own decisions. In a speech in London on March 4, Salmond said Scotland could be a “northern light” to redress the balance of wealth with the “dark star” of London.
The social makeup of Scotland has changed through different eras of its modern history. Among its exports are U.S. industrialist Andrew Carnegie and telephone pioneer Alexander Graham Bell in the 19th century and former Manchester United soccer coach Alex Ferguson and actor Connery in the 20th.
The last decade has seen the influx from the EU and beyond, boosting the population to the highest ever. The 2011 census showed 54,000 residents speak Polish at home, while 58,000 people over age 3 profess to be able to speak Gaelic, an official language that appears on public buildings and street signs predominantly in the north and west of Scotland.
“Scotland is ahead in being inclusive,” said Allard, 49, who transferred to Scotland from Dijon in the late 1980s when he was in the seafood haulage business. “The Scottish identity is extremely strong in Scotland. They feel British as well or in my case French as well. There’s no conflict.”
It’s unlikely non-Scots voters will significantly sway the vote, said John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and a specialist in analyzing the polls.
“For the most part we’re talking about a society born, bred and resident in Scotland,” said Curtice, who is English-born and based in Glasgow. “A lot of EU citizens are less likely to register because they’re not as interested.”
On Dec. 1, 2011, the year of the census and the last Scottish Parliamentary election, there were 4.01 million people in Scotland registered to vote in local government and Scottish Parliamentary elections. The number includes residents from other parts of the U.K. New data is due in May based on the number of registered voters on March 10.
“For me, the strongest argument is a more democratic Scotland,” said Francis. The U.K. government “may have under-estimated the popularity of the independence message.”
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