Provided you are a British citizen over 18 and resident in the UK, you can vote in a general election. Similarly, if you are a British citizen, over 18 and live abroad but were registered to vote in the UK within the last 15 years, you are also entitled to vote in a general election. Individual circumstances aside, as one can always find exceptions, the general principle holds true: That is, citizens living here or with a stake in this country should have the right to decide the direction that their country takes.
Scottish voters, some living mere miles from the Border, are being denied this democratic right. Come September 18, when Scots across the country will vote on the future of the nation, all of us living outside of Scotland will be powerless bystanders. I understand not being able to vote in elections to the Scottish Parliament - I don't live in Liverpool and so can't vote in elections to their council. It's fair and consistent that the same principle should apply to Scottish parliamentary elections.
But the Scottish independence referendum is a different question entirely. That vote will decide the future of the country and will affect not just those who live in Scotland, but those who have chosen to build their lives outside the country. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservative (and Unionist Party), put it succinctly when she said
"As someone who's lived and worked in Scotland their whole life - never anywhere else - but whose only sister has built her life and family just south of the border, I don't want to see barriers erected between us."
Those who will be impacted by the outcome of the referendum extend far beyond the Tweed. This fact, beyond one legal case, hasn't been sufficiently discussed. I have my doubts whether a legal challenge is the best way of dealing with it, however, it is at least an attempt to put the issue on the political agenda. In her conference speech, Davidson spoke to this duality - the vote will affect not just her, but that part of her family that have chosen, for whatever reason, to build their lives outside Scotland. She and the Davidsons are far from alone in this.
I was born in Inverness, raised in Nairn and read Modern History at the University of St Andrews. I decided on (a somewhat ill-fated) career as an officer in the British Army, a decision that necessitated moving to the South of England. Fast forward three years and one of my brothers lives, works and owns a property in Aberdeen with his wife. Another is completing his PhD at St Andrews University. My grandfather still lives in Nairn, as do childhood friends of mine.
I now live in London. Overnight I could find myself on the path to becoming a foreign national in my own home with, as Davidson puts it, barriers raised between myself and my family. This is madness, and unjust. Whilst my brothers and grandfather will live the consequences of the vote more closely than I will, it would be absurd to suggest that I won't to an extent too. It is equally disingenuous to think that whomever it was that dreamt up the electoral eligibility for the referendum didn't consider this.
As it stands, everyone over 16 currently resident in Scotland is eligible to vote in the referendum. Armed Forces personnel with their base in Scotland serving on tour can apply for a postal vote. Of course, a line has to be drawn somewhere, so my proposal is this: Anyone born in Scotland over 16 currently living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland should also be allowed to vote in the referendum on September 18. It should be easy enough for an eligible person to present their birth certificate and photographic ID to a local council office in order to register.
Eligible voters can register up to eleven days before the referendum. Extending the franchise now, a little less than six months until polling day, would put to bed most of the arguments about the legality of the vote. More importantly, adopting this proposal will allow this constituency of Scots a say in not only Scotland's future, but their own too. It might add a marginal additional cost to the vote but, for the sake of democracy and fairness, it is the right thing to do.