September 18 2014. One of the most hotly anticipated political dates in the British calendar. We have been bombarded with facts, figures and statistics over Scotland’s potential success as an independent nation, but a question which has been largely overlooked is that of who actually has the right to vote. To be eligible to vote, you must be over 16 and currently live in Scotland. However, there are groups of people who questionably lack eligibility to vote in the referendum.
Students from elsewhere in Britain can register to vote, as can students from the EU, and from other Commonwealth nations. This means that whilst the majority of university students who have the right to vote, a significant section of Scotland’s politically motivated young people from countries outside the EU and Commonwealth nations are excluded.
All students have an equal impact on a country’s political, social and economic wealth. In addition, by studying in a particular country, a student is choosing to invest their future prospects there, and thus it only seems right that they should have a say in that country’s politics. By overlooking these potential economic contributors, the Scottish Government risks alienating an entire swathe of young people.
The issues with the youth vote also extends further than university students. In what appears to be a cynical bid to gain more votes for the ‘Yes’ campaign, Alex Salmond reduced the voting age to just 16. It is widely recognised that young people tend to be more radical in their political views, and so Salmond’s tactical manipulation of the voting age is sure to gain more votes for the side of independence. If 16 year olds are not judged to be mature enough to vote in a general election for a government which lasts just 4 years, then it is ridiculous to assume that they are mature enough to vote in a referendum which will affect the entire future of the country.
The fact that the only people who are allowed to vote are those who currently reside in Scotland also raises a host of questions. Scottish nationals living elsewhere in Britain cannot actually vote in the referendum. This is regardless of the fact that they may have lived in Scotland for their entire life. The economic contributions that have been made to Scotland by these individuals over the years are ignored. The restriction of the vote also neglects the intention of people who may move back to Scotland permanently. Simply because Scottish citizens do not live in Scotland at this very moment, does not mean that they should be excluded from the referendum debate.
Moreover, it is an issue which will affect the entirety of the UK, and under that logic, should the rest of Britain have the right to vote as well? Whilst this shouldn’t necessarily entitle British citizens to vote, especially considering that the widespread consensus tends to be either a firm ‘No’ or general indifference, it illustrates that the proportion of people who actually can vote in the referendum is only a small percentage of those who would be affected by its outcome.
Scottish independence is such a significant issue for Scotland and the UK, for young people and for the elderly, for this generation and the next, and this breadth is something which is unfortunately not reflected in the right to vote.