Canongate Wall and the Indyref Franchise question

This is a guest post. Mr Littler moved to Scotland in 2017 and he approached me asking if I would be prepared to publish his response to the position Professor Alf Baird was taking. I made clear if it was a response that was quality writing, polite and focussed on genuine debate I would beContinue reading "Canongate Wall and the Indyref Franchise question"

Canongate Wall and the Indyref Franchise question

This is a guest post. Mr Littler moved to Scotland in 2017 and he approached me asking if I would be prepared to publish his response to the position Professor Alf Baird was taking. I made clear if it was a response that was quality writing, polite and focussed on genuine debate I would be happy to do so. I think Mr Littler has observed those conditions and below is his article which is published in full, without alteration. I have offered Professor Baird the opportunity of reply and I hope to publish that response tomorrow. I am always happy to facilitate debate when it is carried out in a civilised and educational manner. It is what this blog site is for.

Alexander Gray’s words, set into the Canongate wall of Holyrood


Sometime after moving from England to Scotland in 2017, I came across a stanza from Alexander Gray’s poem ‘Scotland’ set into the Canongate wall of our Holyrood Parliament. As a ‘brexit Refugee’, married to an EU citizen, these words were curiously welcoming, especially as we had moved to Scotland because we felt that we shared Scottish values and we would join the fight for Independence.

My encounter with the words faded from memory, sadly not refreshed by walking and marching by many times since. Very recently, I expressed to a good friend my disquiet at Professor Alf Baird’s proposals that the franchise for a future Indyref might exclude those such as myself, born in England. The next morning, this friend, one of the earliest to make me feel welcome in Scotland, texted me Gray’s words, having herself just passed by Canongate. That those words should be both directed to me by a born Scot and set into the walls of my chosen Parliament is a moving experience.

Gray’s words only imply Blood and Soil and for context, I could only claim that connection through a Grandmother who died nearly six decades ago. But just living in Scotland is making a stronger connection grow for me and Gray names the third and vital element of connection explicitly – Sweat. We labour together for the same Independent Scotland, we share the same values of a Sovereign People. And we work for the restoration of the ancient realm.

As none of the citizens of 1707 survive, restoration of the ancient realm must also be the emergence of a new state. Which leads to Alf Baird’s question: Who should have the franchise to vote in an Indyref? Alf and others suggest that only those who were born in Scotland and perhaps others born in the UK who have resided in Scotland for a good number of years should be allowed to vote.

I have seen the graphs shown on Yours For Scotland and other sites and I would not dispute that the 2014 referendum was lost on the back of the votes of English incomers. However, that was then and as of now, we have no referendum in sight. But this leaves 2 Questions1. Will adjusting the franchise for a future referendum actually ‘resolve’ the problem of the votes of English incomers? 2. If adjusting the franchise does ‘resolve’ the problem, would this be a good idea?

On the first Question, I believe that to adjust the franchise would not even be as good as the classic military mistake of fighting the last war – in this case by seeking to disable the enemy’s assets that won them that war. By the time we have a referendum, it is likely that at least 10 years will have passed since 2014 [a vexatious matter in itself]. So if we exclude incomers of less than 10 years standing … Yes, we will have assimilated into the franchise all of those incomers who lost us Independence in 2014.

Moreover, we will have frozen out of the franchise post 2014 incomers, who will be hardly unaware of the prospect of Scottish Independence. Many of these, like my partner and myself will have moved to Scotland in varying degrees of expectation that Scotland is on a pathway to becoming Independent, many of whom will be determined to vote for Independence.

In Part 3 [Determinants of Independence Demographics] of Professor Baird’s series, Alf makes the point that English migration to Scotland is “oriented towards the professional and managerial classes”. But we know that this demographic, across the UK is most opposed to brexit. We also know that in Scotland the part of the demographic opposed to Independence in 2014 because of the threat of losing EU membership is turning to support Independence precisely because it rejects both the concept and the implementation of brexit.

On the other hand, there are indications that some 2014 ‘Yes’ voters voted for Independence on the ‘Project Fear’ arguments that Scotland would have to leave the EU, but would now vote against Independence because the UK has given them the brexit they desire. UK demographics indicate that such people are likely to be the less educated, which on Alf Baird’s arguments about incomers suggest that they are likely to be Scots, with the possible effect that born Scots might be less likely to vote for Independence than they were in 2014.

I would state that I am unaware of polling evidence one way or the other on how incomers of specifically English origin both pre and post 2014 now regard the question of Independence. But we can note that the profound changes wrought by brexit and observe that the Scottish professional demographic which contains the English incomers is becoming noticeably more positive to Independence.

Thus it seems a no-brainer to me that, before proposing to change the franchise to exclude English incomers on the basis of evidence from 2014, we would have to take note of significant changes since that time and ask ourselves whether that evidence is a sound basis on which to exclude mainly English incomers from the Indyref franchise.

But even before considering whether to exclude English incomers on demographic grounds, we really should address my second and more important Question – would it be a good idea?

A win in an Indyref can never be an end. We must constantly remind ourselves it is no more than a beginning. To win an Indyref requires just 50% + 1 on the day, but the success of Independence requires everyone to be accepting of the outcome and engage positively.

Welsh Devolution was delivered in 1997 on a vote of just 50.3%. In the 2021 Senedd election, parties campaigning to abolish the Senedd had very little traction. Welsh Devolution has succeeded, primarily because of ‘loser consent’. Brexit was delivered in the UK on 51.9%, with Scotland 62% opposed, as we know full well. Arguably, brexit does not have ‘loser consent’ and the UK is now  captive of a government which denies the obvious need for ‘loser consent’, preferring instead to play solely to its core brexit support. The consequence is the UK is becoming more divided, with government becoming increasingly coercive [for example, suppression of dissent via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill] and degrading their own ability to govern by consent.

So, how might excluding mainly English incomer votes play out after a successful Indyref? Obviously, Scotland would see ethnically cleansing by deportation as unacceptable, besides being substantially destructive of any international ambitions Scotland might have. Our choice would be whether to give those people Scottish Citizenship?

I believe the question of giving Scottish Citizenship to English incomers excluded from the Indyref would be moot, because either way any resentments resulting from being excluded from the Indyref franchise would inevitably be bottled up within the country. Of course, excluding English incomers from the Indyref franchise would reduce the effort required to win, firstly simply on the numbers to be persuaded, but secondly, by eliminating the need to make the case for Independence in a way which appeals to incomers.

And on the second point, we would have squandered the opportunity to engage the incomers as participants in Independence, abandoning them to conclude that they are no more than second class citizens regardless of whether they are offered Citizenship post-Indyref. If incomers were given Citizenship, they might seek to vote in the first election for which they were eligible as a rerun of the Indyref with their votes and accumulated displeasure incorporated. If however incomers were excluded from Citizenship, a significant part of our population would have very little stake in the success of Scotland. Indeed, this might bring to the fore the forces for partition in ‘unionist enclaves’ which Alf Baird mentions.

There is a better way and that is to understand Gray’s words and recognise the sweat of all who labour here as no different from the blood and soil of those who were born here. Going forward from here, we need to include incomers in our national endeavours and engage them in working as one with us. To build the better and stronger nation, we need a successful Indyref, which includes all who make their lives in Scotland.

None the less, even words written in the foundations of our Parliament should not go unquestioned, and Alf Baird has raised an important issue. Of course, I must thank Iain Lawson for giving me this space and I hope that the sweat of all of us will etch Gray’s words deeper into our foundations.

Vince Littler

MY COMMENTS

Thank you Mr Littler for your well written piece. I will leave it to Professor Baird to pen his response.

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