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International students able to vote in Scottish elections

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By Alice Coget
On the 23rd of November, all students from the University of Stirling, including the internationals, received an email from the Electoral Registration Office to register to vote for the Scottish elections on the 6th of May. Initially, a few international students speculated that it was a scam since we had not received any information beforehand regarding our franchise right. After a little research, internationals decided to register since it’s mandatory.

As a French citizen, I was incredibly curious about my right to vote in another country, which was unexpected in the UK after Brexit. The electoral department of the Scottish Government answered most of my questions. The Scottish election (Franchise and Representation) act 2020 mentions that all internationals living in Scotland can register to vote for local and Scottish Parliament elections. 

The Scottish National Party (SNP) wanted the reform to expand the Franchise right to prisoners, asylum seekers, refugees, and national foreigners. However, what were their main reasons for introducing  this act?

According to the policy memorandum, this bill will contribute to more “inclusive, empowered, resilient, and safe communities and support respect, protection, and fulfilment of human rights and lives free from discrimination.” People having the right to reside in Scotland and who may be paying taxes, own or rent a home or use public services in Scotland deserve this right

While the amendment was debated upon, the Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnson declared that“Gaining citizenship demonstrates not only a right to the residence but an involvement with the civic life of the country”. Gil Paterson from the SNP pointed out that“there is no doubt that issues including climate change and Brexit will have much more severe long-term implications for the younger generations, so their strong voice should be heard”.

Most of these reasons appeared convincing and progressive. However, to what extent does the extension of the vote to internationals impact on political turnout ? It has not been tested yet, but a few international students have already commented that they have not been informed about the election and thus doubt they will vote.

As a student studying politics, I became inquisitive about divergent opinions from international students studying various subjects. Pipsa, a first-year biology student comments that “it’s important for non-brits who live here to be able to vote. Especially in local elections since those affect us directly, but also on a bigger scale, since we pay taxes here and all the governmental decisions affect us too. She also thinks that it’s important for us (international students)  to vote because there are issues that affect us more than most UK citizens, like being able to travel abroad easily for example (especially during this pandemic)”.

On the contrary, a Hungarian journalism student declined to cast a ballot. According to her, in a democracy, we put some of our rights into the hands of elected officials. “Since I live and work here in Scotland, I would say that it’s a weird view, I hate that in my home country people just blindly cast a vote, not really caring about the consequences. These are very important things that will influence your life in that sense. I should be able to vote because I am taking part in the country’s development. That being said, I myself declined to vote, because I don’t feel I know the political environment here well enough to make a choice and I don’t feel entitled to vote in a country that I barely know. Maybe when the next election comes about, I will have a stronger opinion that I will want to give voice to, but not right now.”

Participating helps integration in a country and this act will allow 55 000 new voters to cast ballots. It’s necessary to pinpoint that international students account for 22% of students at Scottish higher institutions, compared to 19% UK-wide. Since Scotland has a separate educational system from the UK, their policy remained more open to internationals, helped by different fundings (such as SAAS for EU students). International students also increase qualities of tolerance, inclusiveness, and openness to intercultural learning among Scottish citizens. 

This law allows international students to engage in the country they are studying. In Scotland, it’s a civic right to take part in the elections, where you reside – temporarily or permanently. The right to vote is often linked to the economic support that a population provides to its country. To recall the Scottish Government, International students greatly contribute to the economy. Universities Scotland have estimated that international students account for almost 6% of all jobs in the economy, which is not marginal given the population. Internationals are part of the labour force needed for the country’s economic growth. 

As for me, I remain skeptical about the impact of this right to vote. If there is a lack of politicisation for these communities, the political turnout will remain low. Indeed, international students were already doubtful about voting, lacking information and of interest in politics.

Consequently, the lack of political awareness of students is the main challenge. 

If international students miss to elect their representative of the constituency (Stirling), they will miss the chance to be listened to issues that affect them. He has the power to make decisions in many areas such as education and training, housing, sports, arts and environment. Students’ voices have to be listened to. Being able to vote where you study is a start.

More information about the details of voting: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/voter/voting-person-post-or-proxy/voting-scotland-elections

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