IF seeking to re-inforce the Yes vote at the Scottish election was gaming the system then what would you call the Tories’ attempt to widen the franchise at the next independence referendum?

Some senior Tories plan to offer a future referendum vote to Scots living in other parts of the UK. The plans have been reported in a way that suggests those behind the idea are jolly pleased with themselves and that it would make a Yes vote significantly more difficult. It presumes that the overwhelming majority of the 850,000 Scots living in England and Wales would naturally vote No.

One Tory Cabinet Minister said: “We know Sturgeon will start trying to force another referendum as soon as she thinks it is politically tenable again, so there are things we can and should do now to be ready for her. One thing is to open up eligibility of the vote to all Scots in the UK, not just those living in Scotland.”

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The first referendum on Scottish independence was conducted in an exemplary manner and reported as such throughout the world. The UK Electoral Commission held it up as the “gold standard” in political engagement. The Tories and their stooges in the Scottish Labour Party have been eager to disparage the entire process.

This began from the very outset in 2013 when a contrived narrative began to emerge by leaders of the Better Together campaign, most especially Jim Murphy and Ruth Davidson. It began when it was becoming clear that a momentum was building for Yes.

Seemingly powerless to stop the percentage points piling up for Yes, which saw support increase by almost 20% in the course of the campaign, Unionist strategists began to defame the entire undertaking. The referendum was “divisive” and was scarring Scottish society. Indeed nothing defined Scottish Labour’s two decades of failure more than their eagerness to parrot this falsehood.

During the Scottish election this year Anas Sarwar showed he’s as lamentable a leader as all of his recent predecessors by evincing this nonsense. Seven years after the first referendum campaign is this the best a Scottish Labour leader can do?

At street level (a terrain unknown to the privately-educated millionaire who leads Labour in Scotland) the truth was somewhat different. Families who had never previously been engaged with the business of politics were now engrossed by it. What sort of Scotland do we want? To what extent would we consider ourselves British? How do we view the rest of the UK? It all proceeded in a civilised and respectful manner, hence the glowing encomium of the Electoral Commission.

That Labour and the Tories have since sought to disfigure this truth actually insults the ordinary people of Scotland on both sides who engaged with each other positively. It betrayed a contempt for them by a political class which become uncomfortable when too many ordinary people get in on the act.

One of the most positive characteristics of the first referendum campaign was that around 450,000 English people living in Scotland were granted the right to vote in 2014. The majority of these, naturally, backed the Unionist position. Yet, there was never any question of them not having the right to help decide Scotland’s constitutional future. Nor were any voices raised in protest. Rather, there was widespread acceptance that as they had chosen to live and work in Scotland and were making a positive contribution to our economy and culture their right to vote in the referendum was sacrosanct.

In the eight years that have elapsed since the official start of the first referendum campaign very few Unionist voices were enthusiastic about widening the franchise to Scots living in the rest of the UK. That is not to say that a valid claim might have existed, simply that it seemed reasonable and fair to restrict the vote to all those who had a live and active stake in Scotland’s future via residency.

THERE are some disturbing aspects of the Tories’ current attempts to manipulate the process next time around. By seeking to widen the eligibility criteria they have introduced a sinister ethno/racial blood element to what has been, until now, something much purer. For, how do you define “Scottishness” in this context?

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In 2021 are we really asking people to prove their electoral legitimacy with the purity of their Scottish bloodline? What of those English, Welsh and Irish people who have Scottish parents and grandparents? Is their Scottishness to be measured and quantified too? There are also many thousands of English people living in the rest of the UK who, by dint of employment, financial investment or marriage and kinship, can lay claim to emotional and material bonds to Scotland.

Even those English people who simply retain a deep affection for Scotland and its people could be said to have a right to help decide its relationship with the rest of the UK. Yet the Tories, insidiously, malevolently and subtly, are introducing the question of blood purity to the process. Shame on them.

This has nothing to do with what they honestly believe is fair and equitable. It’s not even got much to do really with seeking to increase the size of the potential Unionist vote. But it has everything to do with adding a contaminant to a process they have always strived to smear.

They know that if they were to be successful in introducing this wretched element of blood purity into the mix that, inevitably, some on the Yes side will rise to the bait and begin to question the right of English people living in Scotland to participate in a second referendum. This would sew the division and tension that they have falsely sought to propagate for the last eight years.

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In Kenmure Street in Pollokshaws last month a UK Home Office squad attempted to begin the process of deporting some Indian men living in Glasgow. They were driven back by thousands of ordinary Glaswegians who wanted to send a message to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel and to wider society in Scotland and the UK.

While these men and their families are living in Glasgow and seeking to make their future here – irrespective of the legalities involved – they are to be considered Glaswegian and Scottish. As such, native Glaswegians like me have an interest in their immediate futures and their future welfare needs. This also applies to each of the 450,000 English people presently living here.

It doesn’t mean that Scots living in the rest of the UK are any less Scottish; just that restricting the referendum franchise to those who have an immediate and dynamic interest in Scotland’s constitutional future is a reasonable and just qualification.