Scottish expats in Prague frustrated to be missing out on independence vote

Supporters wave British and Scottish flags at a pro-union rally, at Trafalgar square in London, photo: CTK

People in Scotland are heading to the polls on Thursday to vote on independence from the UK. Only residents of Scotland are eligible to participate in the referendum, regardless of their nationality, which means that thousands of Czechs can also cast their ballots. But being excluded from a crucial decision on their nation’s future is frustrating for Scottish expats in the Czech Republic.

Supporters wave British and Scottish flags at a pro-union rally,  at Trafalgar square in London,  photo: CTK
There are just over 7,500 UK citizens living in the Czech Republic according to figures from the British embassy in Prague. It is unclear how many are Scottish – but some of those who are feel frustrated that they cannot take part in the crucial vote.

Steve Gove comes from a small town on the east coast of Scotland, not far from Edinburgh. He moved to Prague 17 years ago and founded the Prague Fringe Festival, an annual event modelled after the much more renowned festival in his nation’s capital.

On Thursday, Steve flew back to Scotland to spend the seminal moment in his country’s history with his family and friends. But he says he was puzzled when he realized he would not be able to vote.

“I researched and tried to find out if there was any possible chance that I could vote because I felt quite strongly, although at the time I didn’t have any sense of whether it was right or wrong for the country.

“It’s really frustrating. The reality is that I’m a holder of a British passport, and at any given moment I could choose to go back and live at home. And yet I have no say in my country’s future.”

Photo: CTK
Steve Gove says he is very proud to be Scottish and in his heart would like an independent Scotland. But he’s undecided on whether he would vote yes or no in the plebiscite due to concerns of how a Scottish secession might affect his life in Prague.

“As an EU citizen, I enjoy freely moving in and out of the Czech Republic with no need for a visa. But this might all change as Scotland would most likely have to leave the European Union-

“It’s unclear whether it would then be fast-tracked to the front of the queue or wait for a number of years to be admitted. So this must be very frustrating for the millions of Scottish people living around the world.”

Unlike Scottish expats, thousands of EU nationals living in Scotland are entitled to take part in the vote. That includes an estimated 7,000 Czechs some of whom are temporary labourers while others are long-terms residents.

One of the latter is Doctor Anna Gregor, CBE. She left Czechoslovakia for Britain in 1969, and eventually settled in Edinburgh, becoming one of Scotland’s leading oncologists. She opposes Scotland’s independence, and finds it strange that temporary residents also have a say.

Photo: CTK
“We had an invasion of Catalans to Scotland who have an interest in the vote because of their own separatist agenda. We’ve had Poles – but they eventually realize that if they vote yes and we as a secession state will cease to be in the EU until we manage somehow to get back, they will have to leave. It’s a mess.”

Whatever outcome the referendum will produce, Doctor Gregor is concerned about its impact on the society. She says with such a narrow vote as expected on Thursday, almost half of the population will be disappointed, and the divide might take a long time to heal.