Voting and belonging

I am waiting to hear about access, so don’t have much to report on the ‘Lives Sentenced’ project just yet. The following is not really to do with my research, although it does follow on (somewhat) from my recent post on the new direction taken by the Scottish Prison Service. If (most of) the developments in criminal justice (a devolved issue) are an indication what might happen in an independent Scotland, then I hope we will find out.

I went to the Nation//Live exhibition at the Portrait Gallery. I have lived here since 1997, but the exhibition still made me think in a new way about Scotland, Scottishness and belonging.

First of all, it has made me realise that I have been a bit of a political snob. Even though I left the Netherlands as quickly as I could, just after leaving school, I still often note the ways in which I think things are ‘better’ there. The decriminalisation of drugs, the smaller gap between rich and poor, the proportional representation political system, the cycling. Since my son was born, especially, I have been looking at the Netherlands through rose-tinted glasses. When I visit I have willing childcare (also known as grandparents), the weather is a wee bit better and the playparks are pretty amazing. Obviously I manage to ignore the fact that maternity leave is only 3 months, that Geert Wilders had a scary amount of power during the last parliament and that criminal justice has been devolved to city councils, meaning that there is very little help, for example, for people leaving prison. Either way, I haven’t felt part of Britain or British, even though I have been here almost all my adult life, my son was born here and I have no plans to leave. I have behaved (and felt) like a critical commentator from the sidelines. The coalition government, which I couldn’t (but also wouldn’t have) voted for and Scotland didn’t, hasn’t helped.

The exhibition made me reflect on my position as an outsider in a future independent Scotland. And I think (hope) I won’t be on the outside looking in in the same way. I have been inclined to vote for independence. Partly because I have no loyalty to the UK, which I think makes it easier for me to take a chance. But also because Scotland would move closer to my fantasy of an ideal country, where voting for national governments is fair  and brave political decisions are made.

However, here is a quandary. At the moment, as an EU citizen, I can vote in Scottish elections, because they are classed as regional elections. After independence, though, they will become national elections. And will I be able to vote then? It is not clear. The SNP have not yet come out on this issue, but I am not aware of any country in Europe where EU immigrants can vote in national elections. So, if this is the model that Scotland follows, I will effectively be disenfranchising myself by voting ‘yes’. And thereby become more of an outsider than I am now.

There have been rumours, however, that there is political will to allow EU nationals (at least those who live here when the referendum happens) to continue to vote. Will this extent to immigrants from outside the EU? Probably not. But if it did, wouldn’t that be a strong message about what it is to be Scottish – that this is a new (as well as an old) country that includes all those within it? That would be the kind of brave political decision that would get me to leave the sidelines and enter the fray.

But the decision made by Alex Salmond to exclude prisoners from the referendum, when he could have included them (see here) shows that some people, at least, will remain disenfranchised afterwards, presumably only increasing feelings of disconnection and a lack of responsibility towards the state.