The vast majority of refugees and people seeking asylum who have made Scotland their home are not allowed to vote in local, national and general elections. We believe everyone who is resident in Scotland, including refugees and people seeking asylum, should have the right to vote in all elections.
Currently, the vast majority of people from outside of the EU who do not have British citizenship cannot vote in any elections across the UK, regardless of how long they have lived here. This includes (but is not limited to) refugees, people with humanitarian protection, people with discretionary leave to remain, people with indefinite leave to remain and people still waiting for a decision on their asylum claim. The right to vote is only available to all refugees once they have acquired British citizenship. Applying for citizenship in the UK is a long, complex and expensive process.
This means that thousands of New Scots, people who have sought safety from persecution and rebuilt their lives in Scotland, are not allowed to vote.
Empowering refugees and people seeking asylum to engage with local and national decision-making processes as voters is vital to ensuring a two-way process of integration, where those who have sought refugee protection are considered equal citizens. We believe that voting rights should be ‘de-linked’ from citizenship in order to promote integration, participation and equality.
Legislation governs who has the right to vote and stand in elections across the UK. In order for refugees and people seeking asylum to have the right to vote, there needs to be legislative change in Westminster and Holyrood.
Following the passage of the Scotland Act 2016, Scotland has the power to decide who can vote and stand in Scottish elections. They do not, however, have the power to change who can vote in general elections. With these powers, the Scottish Government has decided to change who can vote in Scottish Parliamentary and Local Government elections in Scotland.
The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill 2019 was introduced in June 2019 and wants to grant voting rights to everyone who is lawfully resident in Scotland, regardless of nationality. This legislation has the potential to address the democratic deficit faced by thousands of New Scots who have not been able to formally engage in political decision making in Scotland.
As this legislation is scrutinised by Parliament, we are working to ensure that the expansion of the franchise includes refugees and people who have outstanding asylum claims. We are also encouraging the Scottish Government to use this unique moment of enfranchisement to engage a broader population of Scottish residents in political education and decision making.