THE currency, EU membership, defence, pensions - many of the arguments at the centre of the independence debate are beginning to feel extremely well-rehearsed.
And that's a polite way of putting it. The issue of citizenship, however, remains on the periphery. Perhaps it's so under-explored because it's something we take for granted - but it's still a surprise, especially in a referendum on national independence, that nationality has not come to the fore. Your passport and your right to vote are important in their own right but, more than that, citizenship gets to the heart of who we are. "These are pretty fundamental questions in the independence debate," Professor John Curtice noted at a recent Royal Society of Edinburgh seminar on the subject.
So what do we know about the SNP's plans? Back in 2002 a party policy document said everyone living in Scotland, everyone in the world born in Scotland, and the children of everyone born in Scotland would automatically become citizens of an independent Scotland. Earlier this year, in an interview in New Zealand, Alex Salmond said he wanted "the maximum entitlement to citizenship" and highlighted the Irish model which, in some cases, grants passports to the great-grandchildren of Irish citizens. In the US a few months later he joked about a survey showing 30m Americans claimed Scots ancestry: "You're in," he said. The Scottish Government says it would offer dual citizenship in the event of independence, though it's not absolutely clear whether it would be extended to all. We'll have to wait for the Scottish Government's independence white paper next month to see how all this translates into detailed policy but, with that in mind, academics at the Royal Society of Edinburgh event made some interesting observations.
Professor Bernard Ryan, of Leicester University, felt the SNP policy was too broad. Why, he asked, should Irish people, say, have Scottish citizenship "thrust upon them"? The bigger issue, though, was dual citizenship. Historically, the UK has taken a relaxed view of dual citizenship but that might be sorely tested by the prospect of five million extra nationals beyond its borders. The UK, suggested Mr Ryan, might wish to remove British citizenship from Scots with no "personal connection" to the rest of the UK. Equally, an independent Scottish Government might object if too many Scottish citizens remained British citizens as well. The situation could lead to a "hollowing out" of Scottish citizenship, according to Professor Jo Shaw of Edinburgh University. Allowing complete overlap of two citizenships would be unique, she said, but would it also be "reasonable and workable"? Both experts agreed an independent Scotland could define its own citizens but negotiations with the UK would be required to decide who remained a British national. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has already warned the UK may not offer British citizenship to all Scots and it's a safe bet we'll hear the threat again between now and next September.
But would it make much difference to anything? Mr Ryan speaks as "someone from south of two borders" as he puts it, an Irishman living in England who feels neither the need nor desire to take British citizenship. His Irish passport allows him to live and work in the UK and vote in UK elections. Dual national Scot-Brits might at least expect the same rights. But what else? Expat Brits are able to vote in UK General Elections if they have lived in Britain within the past 15 years. What, though, if they lived in a part of Britain that's no longer a part of Britain? Would a Scot-Brit dual national who had lived in, say, Leeds, get a vote while someone who had stayed all their life in Glasgow not? Offering Scottish citizenship to members of the Scots diaspora raises still more questions. Even if only a fraction of the estimated 40m worldwide "ancestral diaspora" was offered and accepted citizenship, it could still amount to quite a lot of folk. They could reasonably expect the right to come and live in Scotland. That could prove a tremendous asset or something of a headache depending on how many, and exactly who, moved back to the old country. And what of their voting rights, if any? There is much more to Scottish citizenship than a blue passport. We really do need the white paper.
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