SCOTLAND has always been a country of emigration and immigration. Finally we will properly value the international community living in Scotland by giving them the vote in Scottish Parliament elections. For years we have had the enfranchisement of Irish citizens and those of other European Union nations as well as residents from Commonwealth countries. With the passing of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill the 2020 annual canvass of electors has been registering international voters for the first time.

As a European and internationally oriented country, Scotland is taking the next step to include and fully value all parts of our resident multinational society. It is a loud echo of the sentiments of Scotland’s Story by The Proclaimers:

In Scotland’s story I read that they came

The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane

But so did the Irishman, Jew and Ukraine

They’re all Scotland’s Story and they’re all worth the same

In outlining the change to the franchise the SNP Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Michael Russell said: “Our proposals on foreign nationals are driven by the reality and, I believe, the aspiration of modern Scottish society. European Union and Commonwealth citizens already have the franchise, but we must also recognise the enormous contribution that is made to our country by people from all over the world. That is why we are extending the right to vote in devolved elections to all foreign nationals who are resident in Scotland and have leave to remain”.

For the first time in the history of devolution the legislation was required to be passed with a super-majority of two-thirds of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. It was passed by 92 to 27 votes with the support of the Scottish National Party, Labour Party, Scottish Greens and the LibDems. Only Tory MSPs voted against. Labour’s justice spokesman James Kelly said: “The extension of the franchise to foreign nationals who are resident in Scotland is logical. People who reside here contribute to our economy and our communities, and they often work in caring professions such as those in the health service.

“Therefore, it is only right that we extend to them the right to participate in elections, to take part in the democratic process and to have a choice when it comes to the representatives who are picked and the Government that is elected.”

For the Scottish Greens, Mark Ruskell, said: “The bill delivers important protections for the rights of EU and Commonwealth citizens and an extension of rights to refugees and others who have residency in the UK. Of course, Green members warmly welcome that tangible extension of rights; it is also an important symbol of how we increasingly base the definition of citizenship in Scotland on residency.”

Liam McArthur for the LibDems argued that: “Those who want to make Scotland their home should be helped in their efforts to make a contribution to their new community. If someone has been forced to flee their home to escape war and persecution, they should not be confronted with needless barriers to integration. We should be tearing down walls, not building them.

“Extending voting to those who are legally here will help in a small but important way to do that.”

According to the 2011 census Scotland’s over-16 population was 4,379,072 of which 16,964 were citizens of the Irish Republic, 99,569 were citizens of other EU countries and 56,156 of Commonwealth countries. This leaves 59,450 citizens of other countries, including the United States, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, Norway and many others. The National Records of Scotland has confirmed that the council areas with the largest proportion of residents with a non-UK citizenship are Aberdeen City (18%), City of Edinburgh (16%) and Glasgow City (14%). At Scotland’s Universities and Colleges there are more than 30,000 non-EU international students in addition to the roughly 20,000 EU students.

Soon we will be able to see how successful the 2020 electoral registration canvass has been. I sincerely hope that international residents are fully registered as well as Irish, other European Union, Commonwealth and all domestic citizens. If however it emerges that there is a significant shortfall in voter registration we are going to have to support an imaginative campaign of additional voter registration in the run-up to the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.

We are all worth the same, all part of Scotland’s story and all residents are entitled to decide Scotland’s future. In the words of the final verse of Scotland’s Story by The Proclaimers:

All through the story the immigrants came

The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane

From Pakistan, England and from the Ukraine

We’re all Scotland’s story and we’re all worth the same

Your Scotland’s story is worth just the same