In total, I have lived in the UK for almost 23 years. I lived in England for the first two years of my life and have lived in Scotland since I was 4 years old, for almost 21 years. Only this year was I allowed to vote for the first time.
I was born in England, but as my parents are Icelandic citizens, I was not automatically considered a British citizen by birth. I decided not to apply for UK citizenship when I was younger. I felt that there was no need for it. As long as the UK was in the EU or EEA and I was a resident of Scotland, I could work, I paid taxes, I was considered a Scottish home fees student when applying for university, and I had access to the NHS.
Then when I got older, in order to obtain British voting rights, I would have had to undertake the Life in the UK citizenship test. In the end I didn’t want to pay to sit a test on the life I had lived.
I’ve been of voting age through the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Brexit Referendum, and three general elections. I cannot vote in Iceland as I am not resident there and never have been, but I couldn’t vote in the UK with my Icelandic passport or without sitting a £1,000 citizenship test. That is, until Scotland introduced residence-based voting rights on local and Scottish Government elections.
My family and I jumped at the chance to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021 and finally have any say at all in how the country we have lived in for more than two decades would be run. But my sister, who lives in England now, still has no vote and no say in the country she lives and works in, studied, and grew up in.
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Instead of using the Elections Bill to rectify this and help more people have a say in their local areas, the government is now pursuing a strategy that makes EU citizens’ voting rights more complicated and determines them by factors such as our arrival date in the UK and the UK’s ability to secure a bilateral treaty with our country of origin. It treats EU citizens who arrived in the UK under EU free movement as pawns in the UK’s pursuit of the protection of their own citizens abroad.
The Government must scrap this approach and pursue residence-based voting rights across the UK, like in Scotland and Wales. There are already calls for it. After all, this is an important piece of change that will give our EU citizens the right to have a say in the country they live in.