Foreign nationals resident in Scotland should be able to have a say in how the country is run. This the view of the majority of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee following its consideration of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill.
The Bill aims to increase political participation by extending the franchise for who can vote and the candidacy rights for who can stand in Scottish Parliament and local government elections.
The majority of the Committee agreed to the general principles of the Bill and measures to extend the franchise to foreign nationals resident in Scotland.
However, in welcoming the move, the Committee has asked the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that all of those eligible to vote are registered to do so. It has also called on the Government to consider whether the franchise should be extended to those seeking asylum in the country.
Committee Convener, Bill Kidd MSP said:
“Voting is about so much more than choosing our politicians. It is about feeling empowered and a part of a community. Having the opportunity to influence law makers and decision takers is something that many of us take for granted and for the majority of the Committee, the aim to extend this right to foreign nationals is warmly welcomed.
“Our report today also 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.”
The Bill also seeks to extend the franchise to prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less. This followed the decision of the European Court of Human Rights which found that a blanket ban on prisoner voting was in breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Deputy Convener of the Committee, Mark Ruskell MSP 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.”
Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP and Tom Mason MSP did not support the general principles of the Bill and dissented from a number of the report’s conclusions. Details can be found in the Committee’s report.
The Scottish Government introduced the Bill in June 2019 and covers three main areas:
• extending the franchise to citizens of all countries who are legally resident in Scotland
• extending candidacy rights, and
• allowing some prisoners the right to vote.
More details of the Bill can be found here.