THE 2021 elections will be very important in many ways, but even more so for me as it will be the first time that I will have the right to vote in devolved elections in Scotland.

Since the Scottish Government in 2019 approved the extension of the voting franchise to all legal residents of the country, I have been wondering if the population and the political parties themselves understand the kind of change this will bring for the country’s sociopolitical configuration.

According to the Scottish Government: “The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill will benefit around 55,000 people and also reaffirms the existing voting rights of European Union and Commonwealth citizens.” Before the law was passed, only British, Commonwealth or EU citizens had the right to vote.

Imagine that: until this coming election, those like me who currently reside here and made Scotland their home, couldn’t fully participate in civic, political decisions. Immigrants are currently integrated into the labour market and economy, but not Scotland’s political scenario.

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According to the Scottish Government, it was precisely this imbalance that the Scottish Election Bill intended to amend. Minister for Parliamentary Business Graeme Dey said that a public consultation made by the Scottish Government in 2018 found 92% of organisations and 78% of individuals supported this reform.

When a government grants such rights to immigrants, it makes a visible commitment to inclusion. Granting voting rights to stimulate the political participation of a whole new class of people and provides an atmosphere that is more prone to support integration.

But what does this really mean for the country and for the people who will be affected by this law? I would suggest it means visibility for issues that are definitely impacting people’s lives. Decisions that previously would have been made only by a few MSPs and/or parties with a greater commitment to human rights and social welfare will have to be on the agenda of all parties now. After all, these immigrants have stopped being (at least during the election campaign) second-class citizens.

Issues of achieving rights and longing for social protection are recurrent in the discourse of immigrants.

In the past they have already helped to form opinions in countries like the Netherlands. In 2006, a large number of immigrants went to the polls to show their dissatisfaction with the anti-immigration policy of the centre-right government. Researchers found that the Social Democratic Party won the elections in Amsterdam and Rotterdam mainly because of immigrant voters (naturalised and permanent residents).

In Germany in 2008, a similar thing happened, in the state of Hasse. The Christian Democrat leader played openly the anti-immigrant card during his campaign. As a result the party lost 12% of their votes and their overall majority. The eligible Turkish-German electorate in Hasse was estimated 70,000 at that time, and they could well have decided the outcome of that election.

In both countries, it is clear that appealing to far-right xenophobic, racist ideologies might well attract some voters but also have a huge effect on immigrants empowered with the right of vote.

Nobody wants special treatment or any kind of advantage – just basic dignity and visibility. When I speak of visibility I speak of public policies that will potentially save the lives of many members of ethnic migrant communities that are invisible.

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As a Latin immigrant woman, I am well aware of the problems faced here by members of my community, which by the way is not even legally recognised as an ethnic minority in Scotland nor the United Kingdom. Invisibility throws people into marginalisation, takes away access to basic rights such as access to programmes to help victims of domestic violence, ignorance of labour laws and even access to medical care.

According to the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK, the lack of access to health services is a concern. One in five is not registered with a GP, and only four out of 10 have been to a dentist in the UK. If this social deficit already happens among other British BAME, imagine the effect on those who come from other countries.

I am not referring to handouts but policies designed to serve taxpayers, and so that we increasingly seek an equal and as harmonious society as possible for everyone.

The immigration issue is always discussed in the country by both government officials and civil society, but this discussion does not reach those who are most affected by it and are never able to participate.

I am anxious to know how in the face of all we are experiencing, how the political scenario will be shaped or reshaped by the vote of those who are not Scottish by birth but who are Scottish from their heart.

This column is the third in a series from the Pass The Mic project, a directory of women of colour experts who aim to diversify voices and expertise in the media