Tuesday, 5 May 2015

You vote, I don't

On Thursday, if you live in Scotland and have passed the hurdles of electoral registration, you can vote.

I can't.

I am one of the millions of Scots emigrants. I chose to leave, age 18, to find a new world away from what was for me, then, the stifling claustrophobia of the Scottish middle class. I have family - lots of them - in Scotland and visit regularly. If you ask I'm Scottish and in classes and conferences when people lump together the Anglo-Saxon cultures I always make a joke about being a Pict. 

But I can't vote.

Before the Referendum I thought it was an injustice. I know Scotland, I love the place, I can pronounce 'Auchterarder' correctly, and I sing "I belong to Glasgow" and "Ye cannie shove your grannie" in the shower. But I can't vote.

And then came the Referendum, and the people who live in Scotland voted. People who lived in a place decided how the place should be run. Whether they'd arrived from Surrey last year or had ancestors that reached back to Dalriada, each had a vote. And that was right. The people who lived in Scotland decided for No, and that was their democratic choice, the wish of those people at that time.

On Thursday you can vote, and I can't. There is another way. In France, eleven of the seats in parliament are taken by MPs for the overseas French. They are there to represent the interests of expatriate French people. Theirs is a small voice in the clamour, but they are able to speak out on topics - immigration, tax, passports, embassies, pensions - that affect the expatriate community.

So here is a proposition for Holyrood. One MSP to represent expatriate Scots. All of us who wanted to vote would be required to register. We would pay a fee - say £25 - to register, to ensure that 'our' MSP was not a burden on the state. Any surplus from these registration fees would be donated to charities in Scotland.

Why bother? Scotland's emigrants are an underused asset. We are millions of ambassadors for Scotland, introducing friends and neighbours to Scottish culture (come to our Burns Night!) and, often, encouraging friends to visit Scotland as students, tourists and business people. Keeping us engaged is useful to Scotland's economy and to Scotland's world view.
Giving a vote, a single-seat vote, to expatriate Scots would offer democracy and participation to Scotland's global community. We, the millions who have chosen or been forced to leave Scotland would at last have one small voice in Scottish politics.

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