Refugees and asylum seekers could be given right to vote in Scotland

The Scottish Government is considering whether to give refugees and asylum seekers the right to vote in national elections, in what would be a UK first.
Holyrood could give voting rights to refugees and asylum seekersHolyrood could give voting rights to refugees and asylum seekers
Holyrood could give voting rights to refugees and asylum seekers

Holyrood was granted new powers over the running of elections under the 2016 Scotland Act and ministers are set to make major changes to the country’s electoral system.

A public consultation launched last month suggested that the voting franchise for Scottish Parliament and council elections should be extended to “everyone legally resident in Scotland”.

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The Scottish Greens are now calling for this to include refugees and asylum seekers, arguing it would send a message that Scotland is a “welcoming country”.

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The Scottish Government said it would “carefully consider” the idea before setting out future legislation, opening the door for both groups to vote in the UK for the first time.

Under the current rules only British, Commonwealth and EU citizens who are resident in Scotland and are 16 or older can vote in Holyrood and council elections.

But Green MSP Ross Greer, the party’s external affairs spokesman, said refugees and asylum seekers who have chosen to come to Scotland should not be denied a democratic voice.

“Scotland is a welcoming country. Our history of taking in those in need of a safe home is a long one and continues today,” he said.

“It was only a few weeks ago we celebrated the 2,000th Syrian refugee to be settled here. What better way could we show refugees and asylum seekers that they truly are welcome and that Scotland is their home than by giving them the right to vote?

“It is only right that all those who live here and are affected by decisions made locally or nationally have a say in choosing those who make the decisions.”

Mr Greer said a simple “residency test” should apply, allowing asylum seekers to vote while they lived in Scotland even if their application to remain in the UK was still pending.

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The idea was welcomed by the Scottish Refugee Council, which said many of the people it supported would relish the chance to have a say on the future of the country.

“There is no reason why refugees who are rebuilding their lives here should have fewer rights than the rest of us,” said the charity’s policy officer Graham O’Neill.

“They are our colleagues and friends and contribute a huge amount to Scottish society.

“I’m sure a lot of the people we work with would relish the chance to participate in elections and have a say on how to build a fairer society.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As set out in our Consultation on Electoral Reform, we are seeking views on extending who can vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections, to include more people who are citizens of other countries but who have chosen to live here in Scotland.

“We agree that Scotland is a welcoming country, and we will carefully consider the call to give asylum seekers and refugees the opportunity to vote in elections where we have power to determine the franchise.”