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Calls for Scottish Government to consider extending vote to asylum seekers

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Calls for Scottish Government to consider extending vote to asylum seekers

A Scottish Parliament committee is calling for the Scottish Government to consider whether the voting franchise should be extended to asylum seekers.

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee released its stage one report on the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill on Tuesday and found “foreign nationals resident in Scotland should be able to have a say in how the country is run”.

The bill aims to extend the voting franchise to citizens of all countries who are legally resident in Scotland.

In October, the committee heard evidence from Scottish Refugee Council policy officer Lorna Gledhill, who said the bill in its current form excluded “those without leave to remain in the UK” from registering and voting in elections, including “asylum seekers who have an undetermined claim for asylum”.

Gledhill told the committee: “The flipside is that if people in the asylum system are excluded from voting, it is another moment of social disenfranchisement, it is another thing that they are not able to do.”

The committee’s report noted Gledhill’s comments, and noted comments from Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations Mike Russell, who told the committee “it would be extremely difficult to grant the right to vote to people who have no right to be here. Once the person has been granted refugee status—and that is nothing to do with citizenship—that right is given.”

“We are all determined that the bill will be as wide as it possibly can be but even then, there has to be a limit, and that limit is the right to remain,” Russell said.

The committee offered support to the general principles of the bill, however it recommended: “The committee recognises the practical barriers to enfranchising asylum seekers but calls on the Scottish Government to urgently examine whether the franchise could be extended to asylum seekers resident in Scotland.”

The committee also asked the Scottish Government “to do more to ensure that all of those eligible to vote are registered to do so”.

The legislation will extend candidacy rights to all Scottish residents and allows some prisoners, serving sentences of 12 months of less, the right to vote.

Committee convener, SNP MSP Bill Kidd, said the committee’s report “asks the government about what more it can do to ensure that all those who are eligible to vote can do so and feel empowered to make changes in their society”.

Deputy convener, Green MSP Mark Ruskell, said: “There is clearly strong feeling on the issue of prisoner voting and the committee heard considerable evidence supporting the case that all prisoners should have the right to vote. It is also important that Scotland complies with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The majority of the committee agreed that the franchise in Scotland should be extended to those prisoners serving sentences of 12 months of less. This can and should play an important part of the rehabilitation of offenders,” Ruskell said.

Conservative MSPs Jamie Halcro Johnston and Tom Mason did not support the general principles of the bill and dissented from a number of the report’s conclusions.

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