On the 20th February 2020, the Scottish Parliament passed the Scottish Elections (Franchise & Representation) Act. This legislation extends the right to vote in Scottish Parliamentary and local government elections to include everyone with leave to remain in Scotland, including people with refugee status.
This historic change was passed by more than a two thirds majority of MSPs in the Scottish parliament.
Scottish Refugee Council worked in collaboration with a number of different organisations and campaign groups to secure support of this Bill. We are delighted to see the legislation pass and for thousands of refugees who have made Scotland their home finally to be granted the right to vote in Scottish Elections.
The Scottish Elections (Franchise & Representation) Act changes who is able to vote and stand in Scottish Elections – these are Scottish Parliamentary and local government elections.
The Bill set out to address the fact that many long-term residents in Scotland were not able to vote in elections in Scotland. If you were not a British citizen, an Irish citizen, an EU citizen or a qualifying Commonwealth citizen, you were not able to vote, regardless of how long you had lived here.
The Act makes two significant changes to franchise and candidacy rules in Scottish Elections which affect refugees and people seeking asylum:
• Everyone who is lawfully resident in Scotland will have the right to vote in Scottish parliamentary and local government elections;
• Everyone who has indefinite leave to remain and EU nationals with pre-settled status will have the right to stand as candidates in Scottish parliamentary and local government elections.
So, in effect, people who have been granted refugee status (or any other form of leave to remain) and live in Scotland will now have the right to vote in Scottish Elections. People who have not yet received a decision on their claim for asylum will not be able to vote in Scottish elections.
Refugees will only be able to stand as candidates in Scottish Elections once they have acquired indefinite leave to remain.
This Act rectifies a long standing democratic deficit whereby many New Scots have not been able to formally engage in political decision making in the country they call home. Thousands of refugees who have found sanctuary in Scotland will be enfranchised by this piece of legislation.
This is a really significant moment, particularly for refugees who have often been disenfranchised – both in country of origin and here in the UK – for many years. 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 hope that newly enfranchised communities will be able to register to vote soon but we are waiting for further guidance from the Electoral Commission and Scottish Government to confirm this. If you have any queries about registering to vote, please contact the Electoral Commission directly: www.electoralcommission.org.uk/contact-us
By granting voting rights to all those who are lawfully resident in Scotland, and extending candidacy rights to those with indefinite leave to remain, the Scottish Parliament has sent a clear message that Scotland is a welcoming, inclusive country, where everyone should be treated equally not matter where they are from.
However, the journey to a fully inclusive franchise does not end here.
We firmly believe that everyone who makes Scotland their home should have a say in how the country is run. Therefore, people seeking asylum should have the same voting rights as other residents in Scotland. People seeking asylum come to Scotland for safety, to rebuild their lives and find peace for themselves and their children. They are our neighbours, our friends, activists, fellow campaigners and party members. Their lives are shaped by policies set in Holyrood and local government; they should have a say on how that happens, like everyone else.
We also encourage the Scottish Government to consider proposals to allow people with limited leave to remain the right to stand in Scottish Elections. By only granting candidacy rights to those with indefinite leave to remain, the Bill creates an uneven pattern of candidacy rights that is not based on an individual’s relationship to a community, but rather subject to somewhat arbitrary structures imposed by an immigration system.
To discuss our work on voting rights, please contact our Policy Officer Lorna Gledhill.