With the upcoming Smith Commission considering which additional powers if any Scotland is to be granted as a result of voting to remain in the union, I thought I’d raise an issue which is close to my heart.
I will attempt to explain why I believe that the Scottish Government should be granted complete control of the election franchise.
We all witnessed, some with amazement, others with pride the exceptionally positive impact that allowing 16-17 years to vote in the referendum had. Not only did the young uns have the chance to be involved in the making the biggest decision of their lives but more importantly they were active in the National debate and gave a glowing account of themselves. The younger generations typically displayed focus, a thirst for knowledge and composure that many older folks could and should learn from.
As a result I and many others believe that a permanent change should be made to the election and referendum franchise which enables 16-17 year olds to vote in local and national elections. This however, is not the franchise detail which I am most concerned with.
We also witnessed a number of Scottish ex-pats positioned all around the world, many of whom had strong opinions on the outcome of the referendum, denied the opportunity to vote. I have considerable sympathy for them and I could so easily have been one of them, however, I do believe that had the franchise been a little more fully developed that this was the right decision. You see, I think that it was important that the decision about Scotland’s future was and should have been made by those living and working in Scotland.
However, that was and it wasn’t the case in equal measure. The only people entitled to vote in the referendum were those domiciled here who were UK nationals, EU nationals or hailed from one of the Commonwealth countries. I understand that this somewhat abstract collection of groups is based on the rules around UK general elections and no-one sought to make any amendments to this particular part of the franchise. This, this right here is where I have always had an issue with the franchise.
There are a great many people in Scotland who live and work, contribute to tax revenues and National Insurance who will never see a pension delivered from their adopted nation’s government. These are people who were born outside of the UK, EU or Commonwealth who nevertheless contribute to our society both economically and socially.
My wife is one such person, she is a Japanese national and had no vote. She works at one of Scotland’s most ancient and prestigious universities where she teaches eager students. Even if she needed to, which fortunately she doesn’t, my wife’s spousal visa does not entitle her to any welfare benefits at all, though she is not accordingly exempt from paying any taxes and nor does she has an opt out from paying national insurance. It is our intention as a married couple to continue living in Scotland for the foreseeable future and to build a family here. This immigrant is not a drain on society but rather the opposite, she is a net contributor.
I have another Japanese friend who moved to Edinburgh when he was 16 years of age. Some 20 years later he is still working and living in Edinburgh. He has lived, worked and contributed to society in Scotland and UK for his entire adult life. He too has no entitlement to vote.
This situation of course does not only affect Japanese but many international citizens whose countries do not belong to these abstract groups.
I understand that this is relatively common and that if I lived in Japan I too would not be entitle to partake in political decision making. However, if we want to be more accepting and fairer going forward and if we are all indeed Jock Tamson’s bairns then I believe that the franchise for future elections needs to be extended to ensure that the voices of all nationals in Scotland are heard and are counted.
With Westminster’s somewhat xenophobic “foreigner” bashing and anti-immigration agenda I do not see any way that the franchise will be changed to allow my friends to contribute politically as well as socially and economically. Therefore, as part of a MUCH larger package of powers I believe that powers over elections should be devolved to Holyrood.