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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Labour 9:30 pm, 21st March 2012

I wish to make some comments in relation to the amendments spoken to by my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton and the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in respect of who should have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence. Much as I respect my noble friend, I cannot agree with her premise that those who were born in Scotland and move to other parts of the United Kingdom or even further afield should have the opportunity to vote in the referendum.

At the time of the referendum, whenever it is-like many other noble Lords I hope that it is as soon as possible-it has to be a vote for people who are at that time living in Scotland. I am aware that that will involve a number of people, not least a considerable number that is reckoned to be about half a million people, who would describe themselves as English domiciled in Scotland, as well as people of various other nationalities who happen to be living and working in Scotland. If they are on the electoral register as EU citizens, I believe that they should have a vote.

The question of Scots who have moved-of course, the Scottish diaspora is considerable-beyond the confines of Scotland is a difficult issue in this situation. To some extent, I have some connection because my son has a Scottish father and an English mother but he was born in England. He is well short of voting age but the point is that many people in that situation would have an interest. In the future, he may choose to live in Scotland.

After leaving university, I went to live in England. I was living and working in England at the time of the 1979 referendum. I was not on the electoral register in Scotland, although I travelled home in the weeks immediately prior to the referendum every weekend to campaign vigorously for a yes vote. Even though I did not have a vote myself, it did not occur to me that there was anything wrong with that. I had chosen for whatever reason to leave Scotland.

It may well be that there are many thousands of people who, like my noble friend Lady Taylor, were perhaps very young when their parents left and they more or less had to go with them. I accept that they may not have made that decision but none the less on becoming an adult they would have the option to go back to live in Scotland if that is their choice. They are more than welcome to do so. For people who have left Scotland-I left, went back and left again-the situation is simple. You have to be domiciled in Scotland to have a vote on something as important as this. Just to say, "I am Scottish in my blood; I feel a Scot; and I do not feel any other kind of allegiance" is not enough.

A very interesting example was raised by my noble friend when she talked of the very impressive Bolton Wanderers manager, Owen Coyle, who I know. When I was a Member in another place, Owen and two of his brothers who were also professional footballers at the time were members of the Labour Party in that constituency. Whether he holds membership now, I do not know. I have not spoken to him for some years. But the interesting thing is that Owen Coyle, born and bred in Glasgow, played for the Republic of Ireland. He is an international but he played for the Republic of Ireland. It is not just as simple as saying, "He is a Scot, living in England and therefore he should have a vote". He has played for the country of his parents because they were Irish. Various issues muddy the water here.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, introduced the concept of Scottish nationality, which is difficult to define in itself. He says that a person shall be considered to be of Scottish nationality if they are ordinarily resident or resident in Scotland, wherever they come from, however long they have been there and having made their home in Scotland. I would say that someone in that situation should be entitled to a vote in the independence referendum but to say that they have Scottish nationality is stretching it a bit. I do not think that that is the way to define it. I understand the point that he is making and, to some extent, I agree with that part of his amendment but not with the bit that follows.

To conclude, this is a matter of great importance to Scots wherever they live and they are of course spread throughout the world. At the time of the independence referendum, it cannot be justified to say that those people who, for whatever reason of many reasons, have left Scotland and have gone to live somewhere else should have a vote. The people of Scotland-but not just Scots of course-at the time of the referendum, I believe, should be those who make the crucial decision when the independence referendum comes along.