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Expat Scots demand a vote in independence referendum

A marker stone is seen at Carter Bar in the Scottish Borders August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A marker stone is seen at Carter Bar in the Scottish Borders August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - A million Scots living outside of Scotland should be allowed to vote in a referendum this year on whether their country becomes an independent nation, one of them said on Monday as he sought backing for a legal challenge.

James Wallace, a Scottish-born trainee lawyer who lives in England, is among the 1.15 million Scots who are excluded from the vote as they are not resident there.

Anyone over the age of 16 living in Scotland - about 80 percent of the 5.2 million population - has the right to vote on September 18 either for independence or to remain part of the United Kingdom alongside England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That means 800,000 Scots living in the rest of the UK and others in large Scottish communities in countries such as the United States, Canada and Ireland will have no say.

"It's ridiculous, quite frankly, that Scottish soldiers based in England, 10 out of 11 Scottish Olympians and international rugby players who played for Scotland all their careers, cannot vote," Wallace, 26, told Reuters.

Wallace is seeking support from other expatriates to take legal action, although his legal options are not yet clear.

Aidan O'Neill, a barrister specializing in EU law assisting Wallace, said both Scottish and European law could be used to argue that expatriate Scots were entitled to a vote because their citizenship and legal rights could be affected.

"The decision to exclude the Scots born non-resident (is) unlawful as a matter of common law, and contrary to fundamental common law constitutional rights implicit in any modern European democracy," O'Neill told Reuters.

"Human rights arguments may also come into play."

NATIONALISTS GAINING

Jackie Moyes, who was born in Glasgow but has spent the last 19 years living Australia, Singapore, and now New York, said: "For me having a vote is important as the fact is that I could go back to Scotland to live at some point."

"This is not like an election where you vote in a politician for four years, as this reverses 300 years of history. Someone from France studying at university in Scotland has more rights than me," the 45-year-old product developer, told Reuters, adding that she would vote against independence.

Supporters of Scottish independence may view any legal challenge as a political move as expatriates may be more likely to stick with the UK, although Scotland's most famous expat, U.S.-based actor Sean Connery, 83, backs independence.

The first major opinion poll of 2014 showed the strongest backing yet for ending Scotland's 307-year union with England.

An ICM survey on Sunday found 37 percent of voters backed independence, up from 32 percent in September, while those wanting to stay in the UK fell by the same margin to 44 percent. Nineteen percent of voters remained undecided.

Previous attempts to build support to challenge voting eligibility have failed, including petitions launched two years ago by Wallace and by Ian Gillies who is due to become Lord Mayor of the English city of York in May.

Gillies put the previous lack of interest down to timing, with interest in September's referendum picking up this year.

"It's appalling as it's taking away our birthright and is morally wrong. I may have lived in England since I was eight but I am still at heart a Scotsman," said 67-year-old Gillies.

"This is absolutely political. Expatriate Scots have broadened their outlook and I think most would vote against leaving the UK so they have been excluded."

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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