Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
The logic behind allowing students to vote via their term-time address seems a little skewed for a multitude of reasons, not least that they will only be affected by the results for about nine months per year for no longer than four years. This flaw seems particularly pronounced in the context of the approaching Scottish Parliamentary elections, wherein the position of the Scottish National Party (SNP) will mean that the main points of issue are acutely sensitive, historical and complex.
Whether or not it is sensible, students with a fixed address in Scotland will be able to vote in May. With a figure of around 10,710 students attending the University of Edinburgh from the rest of the UK, the non-Scottish student population of one university alone holds a significant amount of electoral power. Many of these students have voiced strongly unionist sentiments, believing that the UK should stay together for the supposed benefit of all countries.
A recent poll revealed that 53% of voters would support an independent Scotland if they were permitted an EU membership, a figure much higher than the 45% who voted for independence from the UK in the 2014 referendum. Brexit and the 2019 General Election have undoubtedly ignited a blaze of Scottish nationalism. This is reacting against the overpowering tyranny of the majority towards Scotland from the rest of the UK, who have repeatedly voted against predominant political patterns in the country.
The issue of Scottish nationalism is therefore an understandably emotional one that has impassioned people on all sides of the spectrum. It is no secret that left-wing voters in England and Wales are in favour of a union with Scotland because of Scottish voting aid in providing several safe Labour seats in general elections. These have, on many occasions, helped UK Labour to gain power. For many of these left-wing voters, an act of self-interest would lead to tactically voting to keep Scotland within the union.
However, in most recent general elections, the vote share in Scotland has radically shifted from Labour to the SNP with Nicola Sturgeon maintaining her position as a popular leader. This is hardly surprising considering that Scottish labour majorities have mostly resulted in a Conservative government due to the rest of the UK’s voting patterns. Is it right that English students who proudly call themselves pro-union should therefore take advantage of their vote and potentially tie Scotland into something against their will?
There are those who believe that nationalism is unequivocally divisive and leads to disastrous consequences, and in simplistic terms this may be true; but there is something to be said for the impassioned, expressive dimension of voting that many southern student voters may not be able to sympathise with directly. Reactionary nationalism emerges after a history of hardship, not out of a sense of racial or ethnic superiority. It may also be difficult for many southerners to realign their self-comprehension into a perspective that places them as oppressors and Scotland as the oppressed, and whether or not they agree with this, the rise in nationalist sentiment shows that this is undeniably how much of the population feels – and this must be listened to.
The intention here is not to advertise or propagate the cause of the SNP, but simply to encourage a wider plane of cross-ideological understanding. By all means vote for whose policies you truly believe in, but to vote tactically in order to ensure a future of unionism that many Scottish people do not want would be to recreate the historical relationship of colonialism that has always defined and determined Scottish suppression under Westminster.