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Scotland's nationalists court ethnic minorities in independence referendum

media Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, receives a gift after speaking to South Asian and African migrant voters at Glasgow Central Mosque Kalvin Ng

As voters in Scotland head to the polls today to decide whether to become an independent country, ethnic minorities may hold the deciding vote. More than four million people are expected to cast their ballots in the historic referendum.

Glasgow’s Central Mosque was packed with hundreds of people from the city’s African and South Asian communities on an evening just days before the vote.

They had come to hear the First and Deputy First Ministers, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, make their case for an independent Scotland and it appeared many were firmly in the Yes camp.

“I don’t care where you have come from,” Sturgeon said to rousing applause. "If you choose to make Scotland your home and you do this country the privilege of making it your home, then you have as much say in the future of our country as anyone else."

“You are welcome here now, this will be your home after independence just as it is today,” she added.

Three per cent of Scotland’s 5.5 million population come from South Asia, Africa or the Caribbean.

Many live in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest and most ethnically diverse city and Salmond wanted to make sure they back a Yes vote.

“We’ll have a country that will be concerned not just with economic prosperity, but social justice, and embrace every single one of our communities in what we describe as the great tartan of Scotland," he told the audience. "That’s why I’m absolutely confident that whatever else happens, the majority of Africans, the majority of Asians, the majority of people who come from a variety of Scotlands will vote yes to independence.”

A recent radio poll found two-thirds of Asian Scots would vote yes.

But other studies found some migrants, particularly older people, tend to favour staying in Great Britain.

Graham Campbell, a Jamaican who was raised in London but has spent the last 13 years in Glasgow, heads a group called Africans for an Independent Scotland.

With leaflets in English, French and Arabic, he had been canvassing neighbourhoods in the city’s south-west, where many immigrants live.

He believed the yes vote will come out on top.

“We get independence because, obviously, many of us support our countries by celebrating their independence from Britain, usually," he explained. "No country that’s previously been ruled by either Britain or France or Belgium or wherever has chosen to go back after they got independence, so Africans get independence.”

Immigration has emerged as a key issue.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to tighten net migration to less than 100,000 by next year, ahead of the UK’s next general election.

The Scottish National Party, which is leading the independence charge, says an independent Scotland will do the exact opposite, boosting immigration by 24,000 people a year.

The United Kingdom has also implemented more stringent visa controls.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s minister for external affairs and the son of Pakistani and Kenyan parents, said it cuts to the heart of ethnic minorities’ concerns.

“I’m very proud to be the son of an immigrant. But let it be said very clearly that the UK’s policy on immigration is turning many people off from the union and we know that Scotland as an independent country will have a fairer immigration policy,” he said, adding that Scotland would pursue a more humane foreign policy and speak out on issues such as Israel and the Palestinian territories.

For African migrants like Lucy Muiguai and Michael Matovu, the referendum encouraged ethnic minorities to take part in Scottish politics.

“I’m here because of the future of my children,” Muiguai said. “I believe with a yes vote, changes will happen to all those who are in Scotland, especially ethnic minorities who have come as immigrants, who have nowhere they can call home. They’ll start calling this place their home."

“Often as immigrants we are challenged to engage with the mainstream, so I think it’s very, very important for people from ethnic minority groups to engage with this kind of referendum and the debate and the decision making,” explained Michael Matovu, who was originally from Uganda

“Irrespective of whether it’s going to be independence or not, there’s going to be a huge change,” he added.

Opinion polls suggest the referendum result will be tight, so every vote counts, and migrants may find themselves casting the deciding ballot.

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