Yesterday we passingly mentioned how Home Secretary Theresa May this week claimed that Scots could lose their British passports and be denied dual nationality following a ‘Yes’ vote for independence in next year’s referendum.
Mystifyingly none of the newspapers reporting the story bothered to research the facts behind her claim, so we had to get our investigating hats on.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is generally agreed to be the foundation of international human-rights law and covers the issue of nationality that would arise if Theresa May was to follow through on her warning. The article states:
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
Specifically, we’re interested in Article 15, which states:
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
The UK has been a signatory to this treaty since 10 December 1948. In fact it was Charles Dukes (one-time Labour MP), along with Eleanor (wife of Franklin D.) Roosevelt, who helped draft the resolution, and tied signatory nations into following it to the letter by inserting Article 30:
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
As such, the simple legal position is that Theresa May has no choice but to accept that any Scottish person living in Scotland who wishes to retain their UK passport is indeed a UK citizen who merely happens to be living in a different state, as millions do now. Should she attempt to interfere with that choice the UK would be in breach of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, which would be more than a touch problematic for international relations.
Of course, the Declaration stipulates the right to a nationality, singular. When the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, its citizens were forced to choose membership of just one of the new states created. This was still in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Declaration, because it allowed people the right to choose – including, if they wished, to be a Russian and living in Ukraine.
But that situation isn’t analogous – the USSR ceased to exist, and its passports went with it. The No camp insists that Scotland will be leaving the UK rather than dissolving it, and that the rest of it will continue as a successor state. That’s an arguable assertion, but they certainly can’t have it both ways.
Current UK Borders Agency advice states that British subjects who take on another nationality can keep their British nationality and passport, as long as the second country allows dual nationality – something the SNP has explicitly stated would be its policy, and which it’s extremely hard to see any of the other parties opposing.
(Indeed, British nationality is something UK citizens have to actively renounce, and are not guaranteed to be allowed to do – see section 11 of that document for the conditions. You can find further interesting details on dual nationality here.)
Theresa May’s threat to send border guards into Scotland to cut up everyone’s UK passport (which in any event is in reality an EU passport, merely issued by the UK) is empty Unionist posturing aimed at sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt. Or as we call it in the independence debate, business as usual.