My post (here, scroll down to 16th Feb) about how the UK government and EU wouldn’t, couldn’t, strip citizenship from anyone in the event of a pro-independence vote in Scotland brought dissenting responses on Twitter from a few folk who certainly know a thing or two about government. Their primary arguments were so weak, though, that coming from such able individuals the arguments exemplified how much the establishment, even its technically non-polticised parts, is being forced to state obvious untruths in defence of an otherwise perfectly legitimate line of argument. But does politics really have to be dishonest in this way?
My fundamental reason for posting was that top European Commissioner Barroso was busy telling everyone that Scotland would probably not be able to enter the EU if Scots voted for independence, but was refusing to give any significance whatever to the fact that all UK citizens in Scotland would, unless they personally renounced UK citizenship, remain EU citizens covered by all the rights thereof. So, sure, Scottish secession from the UK might make things a little trickier for countries like Spain, France and Belgium who have their own secessionist issues. But so what? How would the UK and EU look to the world, notably the US and UN, (and Russia, btw, which gave citizens in seceding countries a choice of retaining their Russian citizenship) if they said to millions of citizens – “Sorry, guys, but bollocks to Article 15 of the UNCHR, we’re stripping you of all the protections and rights you have as citizens. And, guess what, we’re not going to let your new country, which conforms in every way to membership requirements, join the EU either. Ever. So, hey, Turkey, how you doin’ over there, guys?”.
One argument from a former senior government official was, no kidding, that if the part of the UK you’re in votes to leave, then your personal citizenship is withdrawn. What? Every UK citizen in Scotland will lose their UK citizenship if Scotland votes to leave? Maybe he was thinking; ‘well, not folk on holiday, or something like that, obviously’, but, as he said himself, that would mean the UK making individual decisions for everyone in Scotland. That’s the stuff of comedy, isn’t it? He is aware of the present immigration backlog, I trust? And the fact that if you don’t lose UK citizenship for living abroad.
But, just for fun, here’s a party game that might illustrate how ludicrous, and frankly misleading, the notion of the UK government, or indeed the EU, stripping anyone’s citizenship is. Add your own variations on the theme – the possibilities are endless and I’m sure you’ll do better than me.
I’m thinking about whose door the Home Office would be kicking off its hinges in order to retrieve passports in the event of a Yes vote, so I’m calling the game: ‘Will their hinges be safe?’.
Dave and Bella Blanco moved to from Southampton to Denny in Central Scotland 18 months ago – Dave’s on a 2 year contract with a construction contractor at Ineos refinery in Grangemouth and is hoping to extend that because he and Bella are mad-keen to benefit from the regeneration of Denny Town Centre. Both Dave and Bella think Scotland should be independent and are going to vote Yes in the referendum. Dave thinks his construction job will be finished in another two years at the longest, then the best hope for future employment will probably be at another refinery in the UK. Still, he and Bella are looking at other employment options while being realistic about the likelihood of moving back to England. Will Dave and Bella’s hinges be safe?
Juanita and Benny, both born UK citizens, have two children. They moved from Bristol to Larbert 11 years ago when Juanita took a job as a junior lecturer in Human Rights at St Andrews University. Benny’s a hairdresser in Larbert, where their kids are at primary school. When they moved up, they thought it would be for just three or four years, but then the kids came along and Juanita secured a senior lecturer appointment at Abertay University in Dundee. Recently, she’s been keeping her eyes open for professorial appointments in the South West of England. Will Juanita, Benny and the kids’ hinges be safe?
Barry is a widower who moved to Airth, near Falkirk, 31 years ago to be near his daughter’s family when his wife died. He’s in his 80s now and still going strong. He loves Scotland, but is a proud Yorkshireman and unionist – he’ll certainly be voting ‘No’ in the referendum. Will Barry’s hinges be safe? Or will it be – ‘thanks for the vote, mate, and goodbye’?
Jimmy and Brian are married and live in Los Angeles. They moved there from Scotland 15 years ago when Jimmy wrote a best-selling novel which got turned into a romantic comedy and now he’s on his fifth best-seller. The only other place they’d ever live is Camelon, Falkirk, if they can get a flat on the old Rosebank distillery site (technically outside Camelon but just put that aside for now), and they plan to move back there in a few years. Will Jimmy and Brian’s hinges be safe?
Beryl graduated last Summer as a mature student from at RSAMD in Glasgow. She was born in Falkirk 43 yeas ago and lived there ever since, but now she’s interning at a big London West End venue and thinks if she sticks at it she might pick up a part in The Steamie when it finally does a West End run. Will Beryl’s hinges be safe?
Ruprecht is the (obviously fictitious) Tory member of parliament for Tobermory. He spends three to four nights a week in London. His wife, Jinty, is barmaid in the village pub and his boys, Tobermory born and bred, go to Strathallan School. Will Ruprecht, Jinty and the boys’ hinges be safe?
Hamish served for 22 years in The Black Watch, RHR. He’s been a ghillie near Glenclova for 21 years. He has a union flag in his garden. Will the Home Office boys who come to kick his hinges off be safe?
Hugh is single and has been a Home Office immigration official for 32 years. He’s never left Scotland, except to go to Croydon on training courses. He holidays on Cumbrae Island. Knock it if you like. Will Hugh’s hinges be safe?
The trickiness for the ‘No’ (to Scottish independence) camp is that the ‘Yes’ folk have the upper hand on the citizenship issue. If it’s true that no-one can be stripped of UK/EU citizenship – which it so obviously is – then the Yes camp can (and do) simply argue that they’d grant Scottish nationality to anyone in Scotland who wanted it and those who didn’t could simply stay ‘British’. Worse for the No camp, the UK government’s policy is to accept joint nationality with any recognised UN state in the world, so that allows the Yes camp to point out that it’d quite likely be possible to have it both ways – folk could be Scottish AND British. The only riposte to this, if you think everyone in Scotland is a dumb-ass, and if you’re prepared to tell a blatant lie, is to argue that it would be philosophically and practically possible to strip people’s UK citizenship from them.
Scottish AND British is an anathema to the No camp. It reduces the ‘price’ to voters of an independence vote many times. Alex Salmond has been cannily exploring the notion of Britishness – noting, for example, that Scotland will remain part of Britain insofar as it’s part of the British Isles. He’s also been flagging how most UK institutions (most notably, the Bank of England and the Queen) would retain their significance in Scotland after independence. He might be ridiculed for his notion of independence by the No camp, but in truth the No camp’s bonkers argument over citizenship shows how effective they think Salmond’s pro-British stance is (not least with ‘English’ people living in Scotland).
Actually, the Yes camp does have a weakness, but no-one’s bothered to test it yet. It’s that if taking up Scottish nationality was to mean anything at all, it would need to confer benefits upon those who did over those who didn’t. That would, of course, mean saying what you wouldn’t be entitled to if you were a ‘Brit’ living in Scotland. I think the reason the media, academics and the UK government haven’t pressed this point is primarily because they don’t think Scotland’s going to vote for independence.They don’t think it’s a serious possibility. That’s also why they haven’t even begun to unpack what an insane, dictatorial idea citizenship-stripping is.
The No camp appears to be talking-up citizenship-stripping without caring about the immediate consequences for my constituents. The UK government might say that the questions above are hypothetical, but the idea that it would be prepared to strip citizenship from people is very significant indeed. And it has immediate, non-hypothetical implications for people deciding right now whether to stay in, or move to, Scotland. Doesn’t the No camp give a toss about these people? Are they just the collateral damage?
I’ve put a number of parliamentary questions down to the UK government. Perhaps the answers will shed some much-needed light on this whole subject. I’ll publish the answers on this blog when I get them.