One of the most welcome features of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was the principle that (almost) anyone who lived in Scotland could have a vote in the referendum. This meant that those who identified as Scots but did not live in Scotland would not have a vote, but those who had decided to live in Scotland and wanted to play a part in its future could vote. This is called civic nationalism: it is based on who lives in the country and is contributing to it, and is not based upon origins or birth or parentage.
One of the side effects of this decision was that many people who had been born in Scotland or who had Scottish parents but who did not live in Scotland were not able to vote. Many of these people left Scotland because they felt it lacked the opportunities for a good career that other places offered: I heard this many times in the years we lived in London and my wife was the minister of one of the two Church of Scotland churches there. In today’s judgemental environment we would probably call them ‘economic migrants’ even though many of them would be appalled to think of themselves like that (other people are economic migrants…). Many left for love, or had to leave for work even thought they didn’t want to, and still others will have had other reasons for leaving Scotland. I know that many of these people were disappointed not to be able to vote in the 2014 referendum – but the referendum was decided by those who had stayed in Scotland or who had moved here, and quite correctly in my view, they were the only ones determining Scotland’s future.
This approach also represented the starting point of many of the Yes campaign’s arguments: they/we took a civic nationalist standpoint, whereas the British nationalist/unionist position was very different – it took an ethnic nationalist standpoint for its arguments. I explained this in a blog posting that was widely read at the time, and is available here (the original place of publication), and (republished by National Collective) here, and (archived on this blog) here.
Now we face another referendum in 2017, this time across the whole of the UK, to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or not. In this referendum, organised by the Conservative party, only people who have a British passport will be allowed to vote, according to a report in today’s Herald newspaper:
Members of the House of the Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will be given a vote, in addition to those on the Westminster voters’ roll.
Those entitled to vote in UK elections include British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, plus UK nationals resident overseas for less than 15 years.
This means that all of those people who have moved to Britain and chosen to make their lives here (including other EU citizens – such as my wife!) are going to be denied a vote. However, those British passport-holders who have chosen to live elsewhere as (economic or other) migrants, or those who have chosen in the last 15 years to retire abroad (including my parents!) will have a vote – even though they no longer have as substantial an interest in what happens here compared to those who live here.
In doing so, the Conservatives are disenfranchising people who have chosen to contribute to this country – it is classic exclusive ethnic nationalism, rather than inclusive civic nationalism. There is a measure of hypocrisy here too, as David Leask of the Herald points out:
So let me state unequivocally, that this is the consequence of what people have voted for last year and this year:
When the No voters prevailed in last year’s Scottish referendum, this exclusive understanding of nationalism is what they were voting for (if you voted No you may say that you are not an ethnic nationalist, but that is the basis on which the No campaign argued the referendum and it has given the British nationalist/unionist parties the mandate to act as ethnic nationalists).
When people voted Conservative in this month’s general election, this exclusive understanding of nationalism is what they were voting for.
Ethnic nationalism invariably leads to chauvinism (I think that in theory it doesn’t necessarily do so, but in practice it always does), and in my view, is to be utterly condemned. Westminster’s espousal of ethnic nationalism despite the good example of broad engagement set in the Scottish referendum affirms my view that Scotland and Westminster are still moving ever further apart, and this in turn encourages me – and no doubt others – to work harder towards the day when Scotland becomes independent and engages all those who live here and contribute to the country in whatever form. I want a truly broad and inclusive body politic of all who live here, not one that excludes people on the basis of their birth and parentage. We are clearly not getting that from Westminster.