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MSPs back plans to give refugees in Scotland the vote

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MSPs back plans to give refugees in Scotland the vote

MSPs have rejected an amendment from the Scottish Greens which would have allowed people with outstanding asylum claims to vote in Scottish elections.

With the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee scrutinising stage two of the Scottish Elections Bill, MSPs considered a range of amendments aimed at widening the electoral franchise.

But while the committee backed plans to give refugees and foreign nationals the vote in Scottish parliamentary and local elections for the first time, MSPs stopped short of extending the franchise to people seeking asylum, or extending candidacy rights to people with refugee status.

Scottish Refugee Council policy officer Lorna Gledhill said: “We wholeheartedly welcome the extension of the franchise for Scottish elections. This legislation address a long standing democratic deficit, whereby thousands of new Scots – including those who have sought refugee protection – have been unable to participate formally in Scottish democracy.

“The bill already seeks to give the vote to all those granted refugee status. We are disappointed that the Scottish Greens amendment to include people with pending asylum claims has not passed. However, the proposed extension of voting rights to people with refugee status is nevertheless a huge step and one we are pleased to see.

“We firmly believe that everyone who makes Scotland their home should have a say in how the country is run. Their lives are shaped by policies set in Holyrood and local government; they should have a say on how that happens, like everyone else.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This ground breaking legislation will underline the reputation Scotland has already established as a welcoming nation. The bill, as introduced, enables foreign nationals to vote for the first time, giving them a voice on matters which affect them.

“The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill already makes provision to give the vote to all those granted refugee status.

“We have examined proposals to expand the franchise for those with a pending asylum claim but Electoral Registration Officers have highlighted practical concerns over obtaining residency information and in ensuring that those whose claim is refused, or who leave Scotland, can be removed from the electoral register.”

Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “At a time when Brexit xenophobia has a grip of the UK narrative, it’s important that Scotland doesn’t just welcome people fleeing terror, we also empower them to make a positive contribution to the future of their new home.

“Our democracy must be representative of the people who live here and make Scotland what it is. We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns. It would be very poor if we denied asylum seekers the right to vote because of an administrative reluctance to add them to electoral registers. They are lawfully resident in Scotland and they have legal identification documents and registered addresses.”

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