EUROPEAN Union nationals living in Scotland could have a significant impact on the outcome of the next independence referendum – but only if the vote takes place before the Brexit date of March 2019.

In 2014, 57.1 per cent of people born outside of the UK voted against Scottish independence, while only 42.9 per cent voted in favour. A new report by the Scottish Centre on European Relations (SCER) suggests that if enough EU citizens living in Scotland switched their votes from No to Yes to reverse that ratio, they would deliver a potentially pivotal overall “swing” of two percentage points towards independence.

Many of those EU nationals who voted No in 2014 did so because Better Together had told them an independent Scotland would not be guaranteed EU membership. The report indicates that switching votes to Yes stay in Europe is “likely” but cannot be guaranteed, and the proportion of votes that will switch cannot be calculated, but the timing of the second referendum is crucial, says SCER.

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EU nationals currently have the right to vote for and stand as a candidate in municipal elections in whichever EU country the citizen resides – but that right will no longer be protected by EU treaties after Brexit. The UK could, but is unlikely to, unilaterally extend the franchise to cover them – therefore a significant proportion of the current electorate could be excluded from voting in indyref2.

Economists Richard Marsh and Fabian Zuleeg say in their report: “People who were born outside of the UK (which also includes eligible non-EU citizens) voted against Scottish independence in 2014 with 57.1 per cent against and 42.9 per cent for. The vote against independence was slightly higher than for all Scottish votes (57.1 per cent compared to 55.3 per cent).

“While it is likely that a number of EU citizens would switch from voting against to voting for independence in a future referendum, to preserve Scotland’s place in the EU, it is difficult to predict the extent.

“As an illustration, if the 2014 referendum voting positions of people who were born outside of the UK could be switched from 57.1 per cent against and 42.9 per cent for, to 42.9 per cent against and 57.1 per cent for (applied to the projected 2020 EU citizen cohort), it would be equivalent of closing the 2014 gap between Yes and No by around two percentage points.

“If all EU citizens vote Yes to independence, it could have a significant impact: if the 2020 projected number of EU citizens were assumed to have unanimously moved from the No to the Yes cohort in the 2014 referendum, it would have been just enough to switch the result, resulting in a 51 per cent Yes vote.”

On the timing of the second referendum, the report states: “While there can be no definite predictions, it seems clear that the decision when to exit the EU and when to hold an independence referendum could have a material impact on the outcome, given the potential size of the non-UK EU citizen cohort, which might or might not be eligible to vote in such a referendum.

“If a second referendum is held before Brexit, EU voters could tip the balance towards independence. If it happens after the UK, and Scotland, leaves the EU, this would reduce the likelihood of independence by excluding the cohort of non-UK EU citizens from the vote.”

The Scottish Government’s position is that the outcome of the Brexit talks must be known before a decision will be taken on the date of the referendum which the Scottish Parliament has voted for.

An SNP spokesperson told The National: “The SNP has always stood up for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK – whether that is the right to remain after Brexit or the ongoing right to vote and participate in elections after Brexit, and Tory attempts to use people as bargaining chips in the EU negotiations are nothing short of shameful.

“EU nationals played an incredibly positive role in the 2014 referendum – and it is only right that everyone in Scotland is given the chance to engage with the democratic process in any future vote on Scotland’s future.”