Do We Need to Talk About the Scottish Diaspora?

By Murray Stewart Leith and Duncan Sim

When it comes to Scotland and England and the future relationship that is the UK Union, and the EU Union, there is a slight problem.  First the Scots were asked in 2014 if they wished to stay in the UK.  They did, by roughly 55-45%.  Then in 2016 the entire UK was asked if they wanted to stay in the EU.  One nation, England, voted to leave, the other, Scotland, voted to stay.  But as the vote was a UK vote, thus we all go!  Yet, it is not as easy as that.  The Scottish Government, formed by the Scottish National Party (SNP), want to hold another Independence Referendum. But it seems a majority of Scotland do not

In fact we have a real ‘Sqircle’ on our hands here. A Sqircle is where we cannot square the circle because one decision seems difficult to reconcile with another. While academics love Sqircles, we need to be able to explain them.  But before we can begin to consider that Sqircle, we need to consider another: not all the Scottish get to register a vote. Despite living in the same State as their fellow Scots, roughly 800,000 Scottish people did not get to vote on the issue of Independence the first time, and may not get a vote the next time. Why, I hear you ask? Because they live in England.

There is a long history of migration into England from Scotland.  While Samuel Johnston’s famous quip that the best thing a Scotsman ever sees is the road leading to England may have been unfair at best, there is no doubt many have followed that road. But today it has seemingly left them powerless when it comes to the major decision that may lead to a border crossing on that road! While these roughly 800,000 people (equalling about 14.8% of the entire Scottish population) left their home nation, they never left the UK, they never surrendered their right to vote, or their citizenship, but it could be taken away from them without their right to vote being considered. 

This is because recent history, and recent Governments, both devolved and UK wide, have not been kind to this Scottish Diaspora. Unable to vote on issues of their homeland, they did not get to vote in the decisions of 1979 (that failed) and in 1997 (that did not) that gave Scotland a devolved parliament. Nor do they get to influence the decisions taken in their Homeland. In the 2014 referendum on Independence these Scots were bystanders to a decision that could have made them strangers in a land many have resided for years and where their children have become fully integrated, and indeed, have become English.

There was a slight fight to allow Scots in England to vote, but it disappeared into the ether rather quickly, seemingly forgotten among wider issues.  But such is against the norm of international diaspora rights.  As we have recently witnessed, Turkish residents across Europe were allowed to vote on a referendum to award their President greater powers. Americans across the world get to vote for their President, and British Citizens resident across Europe, are allowed to register (for a time) and were able to vote on our future relationship with the EU! But the ‘Bloody Jocks’ in England cannot vote on their nation’s relationship with their State. 

So is this fair, is this a sqircle we can solve?  Does it need solving?  On the issue of citizenship the Scottish Government has indicated it would offer citizenship to Scots living around the world, and the UK Government has indicated no one would ‘lose’ their British passport.  Would we see reverse migration?  Would scots living in the south go back into Scotland if it left, or if it re-joined the EU (and would they be joined by many other current residents of England)?  

What of the Scots that would stay in a future where Scotland had left the UK Union?  Would they be viewed as foreigners?  Would the Bloody Jocks become lumped with the Bloody Frogs? We have already seen a rise in racist incidents post the Brexit vote, and there exists a somewhat anti-Scottish sentiment in parts of the media, with claims of a ‘Scottish Raj’, or comments on ‘Jockistan’.  

Ultimately, is this more of an issue of not only what is fair, but of what is right? But it is an issue not easily solved.  In a nationalist movement that prides itself on being civic, rather than ethnic, how does one allocate a vote based on birth-right? Unlike the USA or Turkey, there are no Scottish Passports (at least, not right now) and no distinctly ‘Scottish citizens’.  There are Scots, and a lot of them live in England, and if they do they have less power and say over Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK. But does the fact they live in Scotland make them any less Scottish, or mean they have less right to decide on the future of Scotland?  Whatever it means, the future discussions on these people will tell us a lot about a future England, and future Scotland and a future UK, if the UK has one.

Murray Stewart Leith is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of the West of Scotland.  His research interests include nationalism, national identity, American politics, British/Scottish politics, and diaspora studies.  He has written extensively with Duncan Sim on Scotland and the Scottish diaspora across North America and Europe. They are currently working on a new text on Scotland for Manchester University Press. 

Duncan Sim is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of the West of Scotland. Although he officially retired in 2014, his interests still include ethnicity and identity, particularly in relation to migrants and diasporas. He has undertaken extensive research on the Scottish diaspora in North America, in Europe and within the rest of the UK as well as with migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and diaspora visitors within Scotland.  

Originally posted 10th June 2017.

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