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Saturday, 16 March 2013

Referendum voting rights, residence qualification and citizenship aspects

I am not a lawyer, just a voter trying to stay informed in the lead-up to the most important event in Scotland for three centuries. Don’t treat my understanding as authoritative – check your own facts!


Service and Crown personnel serving in the UK or overseas in the armed forces, or with Her Majesty's Government, who are registered to vote in Scotland are eligible to vote in the referendum. This is consistent with local election residential criteria and previous referendums.

The criterion of residence in Scotland is fundamental, and any attempt to extend or ignore it in a referendum would be challenged by other nations, as the UN Human Rights Committee has made clear.

I lived and worked for nine years in England, and voted in local and national elections in my English constituencies. As a resident in England in 1979, I took a keen interest in the Scottish referendum, but never felt or claimed entitlement to vote in it. I have Scottish-born family living in England and abroad – none of them feel an entitlement or claim a right to vote in 2014.

Richard Mowbray is an Englishman resident in Scotland, one who, I am sure, has made his full contribution to Scottish society, voted in elections and perhaps a previous referendum based on the existing residential criterion. I support and defend his right to do that – and comment on and take a position on Scotland's independence, and vote accordingly in 2014. I also support the same rights for the Romanian Big Issue seller in Glasgow, participating in an admirable social initiative to give him or her a foothold in Scottish economic activity, and the rights of the French financial analyst in Edinburgh, both of whose rights Mr Mowbray appears to challenge.

Scotland's wish to stand as an autonomous, independent nation state does not rely on a concept of Scotland based on romantic ideas of blood ties, empire, monarchy and valiant deaths on foreign fields. Scotland is an open, welcoming country, granting the right to full political participation in its democracy to all who chose to live, work and contribute, as Mr Mowbray has done.

Peter Curran,


Alex Sloan and John F. Crawford et al seem a little confused over citizenship.

Citizenship and eligibility to vote in referendums are different, but related concepts. For example, British citizenship on its own does not create eligibility to vote in a UK election - one must be over 18 years of age on polling day and registered to vote. Eligibility to register to vote requires that you are 16 years old or over and a British citizen or an Irish, qualifying Commonwealth or European Union citizen resident in the UK. If you are 16 or 17, you can only register if you will be 18 within the lifetime of the electoral register. You cannot vote until you are 18. 16-17 years olds will be eligible to vote in the referendum, subject to similar constraints and requirements

There are exclusion from the right to vote among British citizens, e.g. members of House of Lords, convicted prisoners serving their sentences, anyone guilty within five years of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election.

EU citizens resident in the UK may not vote in UK general elections, but can vote in local elections, devolved elections - e.g. Scottish Parliament, Wales and Northern Ireland devolved assemblies and of course in European Parliamentary elections.

I am not a lawyer, but the above represents my best understanding of an often confusing subject. I try not to allow my commitment to an independent Scotland to blind me to objective facts. Better Together supporters might try for the same commitment - it will keep the debate rational and objective, in line with the great debating traditions of Scotland.

It is worth bearing in mind that much British legislation on citizenship and voting rights is simply the fragmented legacy of a global empire that has progressively fallen apart, because of its component nations seeking - and achieving - their independence, because they didn't feel they were better together.

Happy to be corrected on factual errors in my understanding!

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