How to Vote in Scotland as a European Citizen

Public Entrance at the Scottish Complex, Edinburgh. Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament. Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

The next Scottish parliament election is on 6 May 2021 – and the good news is: If you are a European citizen living in Scotland, you can vote as well! Unlike UK parliament elections, you can participate in regional ones. Continue reading to find out how to vote in Scotland as a EU citizen.

Can I vote after Brexit as a European Citizen?

On 20 February 2020, the Scottish government extended the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections. This means, that all those who live in Scotland with leave to remain, can still participate in Scottish elections after Brexit. You are allowed to vote if you have settled, pre-settled or refugee status. Other than that, you have to be 16 or over to vote in the Scottish parliament election.

How to Register to Vote

The first thing you need to do is register to vote. Once you have moved to Scotland and have a permanent address, you will receive a letter from the Joint Valuation Board. The letter will tell you to register online or to send the letter back with your details.

You might not receive the letter straight away. For example, if you are a student and don’t pay council tax, then the valuation board might not be aware of your address. You can simply use the same link to register online or to contact your council’s board.

It’s important that you register to vote by 19 April 2021 to be able to attend the next Scottish parliament election on 6 May 2021.

How to Vote on Election Day

Before the Election Day, you will receive a poll card telling you to which polling station you have to go. If you don’t receive that, you can easily find yours by doing a quick Google search for your council area and where your polling place is.

On the actual election day, you don’t need to bring your poll card, ID, or proof of address. The staff at the polling station will simply ask you for your name and address, and then they’ll give you a ballot paper.

On the ballot, you’ll have to elect your constituency MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) on the lilac paper, and your regional MSP on the peach paper. You can find more information on who you are can vote for on this Scottish parliament website

How to Vote by Post

Given the current Coronavirus situation, you might not want to vote in person on election day but by post. If you have already registered to vote a while ago, then you should have received a letter confirming your address and eventually sending you an application form for the postal vote. If you haven’t received such letter yet, you can download the form on this UK government website.

The deadline for applying for the postal vote for the Scottish parliament election 2021 is 5pm on 6 April. If you miss that deadline, you can still vote in person as long as you register to vote by 19 April.

Who should I vote for?

Well, this is all up to yourself. Currently, there are seven different parties in the Scottish parliament, that are represented by a total of 129 MSPs. One of them doesn’t have a party affiliation. So it’s really seven parties and one independent MSP in the parliament as of now.

If you want to get a feel for which party you should vote for, it’s probably a good time to follow some of the general online newspapers such as The Guardian or The Independent but also your local news. On this page you find more information on all the MSP’s that are currently in the parliament. Since you have to vote for a local MSP as well, you can filter the results by your postcode and gather more information about the MSP’s for your area. Once you start following news about them, you get a better idea of whom you should vote for.

We’ll work on an article summarising all the different Scottish parties, to give you a better overview on what they stand for and what their party programme is. Until then, you can start following local news and register to vote.


European Citizens – Differences between Settled and Pre-Settled Status

Are you a European citizen and living in Scotland or other parts of the UK? If you moved here before 31 December 2020, and want to live here permanently, then you should apply for settlement status. You can do so until 30 June 2021, but it’s a good idea to do this as soon as possible because it can take quite a while.

If you’ve already been through the whole process, you might ask yourself how each settlement status might affect you. At first, they both seem to be quite similar, but there are a few differences

and you should be aware of them. In this article, you’ll find an overview on both statuses and how they affect your rights as a European citizen living in the UK.

What is Settled Status?

If you have been a continuous European resident in the UK for five years or longer, you have the right to apply for settled status. With that, you have “Indefinite Leave to Remain” and don’t have to re-apply for your status anymore. You have the same rights to live, work, healthcare and welfare benefits as a UK citizen.

There are some differences to the actual British citizenship though. You can only leave the UK for a maximum of five years (four, if you are Swiss). You also can’t get British citizenship for your children if they’re born outside the UK. And you don’t get the blue British passport. But to be fair, we probably all don’t want to get stuck in the international queue when we visit our relatives in Continental Europe.

One of the more inconvenient disadvantages of settled status compared to citizenship is that you can’t participate in general elections. However, you can still vote in the regional ones.

What is Pre-Settled Status?

If you’ve lived in the UK for less than five years, you get pre-settled status. That is the theory. In reality, there are quite a few examples of Europeans who lived in the UK for more than five years and are still struggling to get settled status.

One of the most prominent examples is Damian Wawrzyniak. He is a Polish chef who lived in the UK for 15 years and is probably the best European Citizen flagship the home office had to deal with. He had no gaps in his employment, and even cooked for the royal family. However,  his application for settled status was rejected.  

The good news is: Damian appealed and received settled status in the end. If you lived in the UK for more than five years and only received pre-settled status as well, you should double check if this correct. Find more information on how to appeal your pre-settled status.  

How does Pre-Settled Status Affect My Rights?

At first, pre-settled status doesn’t seem to be too different from settled status. You have the same rights to live and healthcare as someone with settled status. Unfortunately, the situation changes when it comes to welfare benefits.

For example, if you lose your job, then you have to show your “right to reside” under the EEA regulations. The irony is, that you can only show your “right to reside” when you have a job. Citizens Advice offers help on how to prove you have a right to reside if you don’t have the right evidence.

Another important aspect of pre-settled status is that you can’t leave the UK for longer than six months within a year. If you do that, your period of “continues residency” resets to zero. If you leave the UK for two years, you will lose your status completely. So if you ever consider a long trip abroad, make sure that you return to the UK in time. Especially during the Covid-19 crisis you should be careful that you don’t lock yourself out of the country in case the borders shut again. Otherwise, you have to start from the bottom again before you can apply for settled status.

See the diagram below from the the3million who summarised the main differences between the statuses.

How do I Move to Settled Status?

You can only apply for settled status after you have been a continuous resident in the UK for five years. Once you reached the time threshold, you have to renew your status and proof your residency period. You can already do that before your status expires. The expiration date on your home office letter is usually the date five years after you have applied. For example, if you moved to the UK in 2018, and applied for pre-settlement status in 2019, then your status will be valid until 2024. That means, you can already apply for settled status in 2023.

Useful links with more information on European Citizens’ Rights:

Tips for Driving on the Left Side of the Road

Image by Dagmara Owsiejczyk from Pixabay

Once you move to Scotland from Europe, you will probably find yourself in the situation where you get confused when you have to cross a road. Even after a few weeks you might still struggle on huge intersections and become utterly perplexed in the middle of the road.

Getting used to Scottish roads and figuring out where to look first can already be as tricky as a pedestrian. At some point you will probably want to drive a car but will have some anxiety about driving on the left side of the road. The good news is: It doesn’t take too long to get used to left-handed traffic. Here are some tips that should help you in preparing for your first drive on the other side.

Left, Left, Left

Even though it sounds obvious, you will have to trick your brain into thinking left. Even if that means that you take a moment at each intersection to say “left”. Especially when you have to turn right, this can help you ensuring that you don’t accidently become a wrong-way driver by manoeuvring into the wrong lane.

In Scotland, cars can legally park on each side of the road, so they are not the best reminder to drive left unfortunately. Again, if you are in doubt just keep telling yourself “left” and just slow down a bit.

Get Used to the Car

If you have never driven a car on the left side, it’s best if you take enough time to get used to the car before you start the engine. The wheel is on the right side and the gear change on the left. The good news is: The pedals remain exactly where they would be in Europe.

However, if you generally feel quite nervous about driving on the left side, you might want to drive an automatic car. That way, you can fully focus on the road and get used to left-handed traffic quickly.

Look Up The Route On Google Maps

Before you embark on your first left-handed drive after moving to Scotland, it’s a good idea to look up the route you intend to drive on Google maps. Especially tricky intersections, roundabouts or chaotic motorways such as those in Glasgow can make driving stressful, particularly when it’s your first time on the left side.

The more research you do beforehand, the better your drive will probably be and the more you will get used to driving in Scotland.

Check The Space on Your Left

Even when you finally managed to trick your brain into thinking left, you (or your passengers) will notice that you often drive too much on the left of your lane. You drive naturally more to the left side as you are used to sitting on the left. This can become a problem as you might eventually scratch your car on narrow roads, or even drive off the left-sided mirror.

While you are on the road, you can use the road markings as an orientation and try to keep as close as possible to the ones on the right. When you have to park, you might want to have someone sitting next to you who keeps an eye on your left side. After a while, you will eventually get better in estimating the space correctly.

Ignore Aggressive Honking

Unlike Germany, it’s not forbidden in Scotland to use the horn (at least during the day). Which means that people here really like to honk at everything and everyone. So don’t take it too personal if someone just honks at you for literally no reason. Just stay calm and keep on driving, it’s most likely just an impatient driver behind you.

Watch Out for Pedestrians

One of the first things you probably have noticed in Scotland (especially if you are German) is, that no one really cares about traffic lights, especially pedestrians. You eventually turn into someone who vehemently ignores long traffic light waiting times and just cross when there is no car in sight. However, you can’t do that as a car driver.

When you sit in the car, you develop a slight dislike of pedestrians ignoring traffic lights whenever they can or when they suddenly appear from nowhere. Thus, keep an eye on pedestrians as they might walk onto the road while you have green. At least you don’t have to worry too much about cyclists as they barely exist in Scotland and are (technically) not allowed to cross while you turn into a road.  

Driving on the left side of the road can seem scary at first and can make you a bit anxious, but once you have managed your first drive you will get used to the traffic quite quickly. Hopefully, the tips from this article has given you a better idea on how to prepare yourself for left-handed traffic.

Moving to Scotland – Things You Need to Organise

Loch Stack by Achfary. Picture by Cameron Swanson

You are thinking of moving to Scotland from mainland Europe? Next to some rough weather and thick accents you should be prepared for some extra paperwork as Brexit has made things a bit more difficult.

Especially with the deadline to apply for a pre-settlement status, you might want to give yourself enough time to organise everything in time. Here is a guide on all the things you will need to do if you are a European and plan to settle down in Scotland.

National Insurance Number

The first thing you should organise once you arrive in Scotland is to organise your national insurance number. With that, you are allowed to work in the UK and can claim benefits if you have to.

In order to get your National Insurance number, you will have to call the National Insurance number application line. They will then direct you to the closest Jobcentre who will set up an appointment with you. Unfortunately, it’s not possible yet to do that online, so be prepared to spell your name on the phone.

For the jobcentre interview you will need to bring the following documents:

  • passport (or identity card, but a passport is usually better)
  • residence permit (this can be your flat contract for example)
  • birth or adoption certificate (a copy or scan is usually enough)
  • marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • driving licence (not necessarily)

During the interview you will need to outline why you moved to the UK and if wish to work there. They are usually very friendly, so it’s more of an appointment rather than an actual interview.

Once you’ve completed your interview, they will give you a form that you can use for your employer to show that you’ve applied for a National Insurance number. The final letter with your number normally takes about six weeks before it arrives. So make sure that you apply for the number once you’ve arrived in Scotland.

Apply For Pre-Settlement Status

The next thing to do once you have applied for your National Insurance number is your pre-settlement status. The UK has left the European Union on 31 January which means you won’t be able to live in Scotland after the 30 June 2021 without a Visa. The process of applying for the status can take about a month, depending on the number of applications the home office has to proceed.

To get your pre-settlement status you have to visit the government website and apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. You will need to have your National Insurance number, proof of residency and identity ready. They might ask you to verify your identity, especially if you haven’t lived in Scotland for long. For that, you will have to send your identity proof to the home office. In case you want to travel abroad soon, you might not want to use your passport as it can take up to a month before they send it back.

After a few weeks, you will then get an email with a letter that will tell you if your application has been successful. In case you have to prove your status, you have to use the online service to get a ‘share code’. You can send that to your employer or family, for example.

Register With A GP

In the UK, you have access to free healthcare through the NHS (National Health Service). So the good news is, you don’t have to worry about organising health insurance. With your national insurance number, you can register with a GP (General Practitioner). In the UK, you will always have to go to a GP first before you see a specialist. So even if you know what doctor you have to see, you will need to get a recommendation first unless you pay for the treatment privately.

All you need to do is to check what GP is based in your community and visit the surgery to fill out the contact form. You can either receive it from the surgery or download it in advance. When you bring the form to the surgery, make sure you have proof of address handy as they might ask for that.

Open A Bank Account

If you want to move to Scotland permanently then you should definitely open a bank account. Before you do that, you will need to get some sort of proof of address. Unfortunately, your contract won’t be enough. You will need to show a letter that was sent to you, which can be a council tax bill, for example. However, this can be tricky especially if you’ve just moved to the UK. In case you already have your National Insurance number, you might be able to show that to the bank. 

Until you have your proof of address but need a bank account for your employer, you can sign up to an online bank. For example, Monzo is very popular across the UK and you can open an account without proof of address.

All the paperwork might sound a bit frightening, but it’s worth in the end. Once you get your pre-settlement status, you are pretty much good to go and have almost all the same rights as someone who has full settlement status.

How to Survive Cycling in Scotland

A trip to the shops in Scotland by bike is not as easy as in mainland Europe

One of the things you will notice once you move to Scotland is the fact that there are barely any bikes on the road. Fair enough, it’s raining a lot here, but that doesn’t usually keep people inside. Unfortunately, rain is not the biggest enemy of cyclists in Scotland. It’s the fact that roads are generally not made for anyone on a bike.

The infrastructure only includes a few cycle paths, which is especially a high risk on busy streets downtown. And on narrow countryside roads with big hedges on each side, it’s almost impossible to go for a nice cycle on the road without fearing that a car is going to hit you.

Indicators that the cycling situation is probably not the best, can also be seen in the road statistics. Over the past few years, there has been a sharp rise in accidents amongst cyclists in Scotland resulting in serious injuries. A survey showed that only 12 per cent have used their bike for at least 30 minutes in the last month. At the same time, Dutch residents use their bike for 25%  of all trips they make. Obviously, it’s not as rainy in the Netherlands and most of the roads are quite flat, but if you look at Finland, people are cycling even when the pavements are covered in snow.

If you don’t want to miss out on using your bike in Scotland, then here are a few hints that hopefully keep you from any serious injuries and improve your cycling experience.

1. Left, Left, Left

You are not in mainland Europe anymore, so you will need to keep left on the road. When you drive a car, then the position of the gears and wheel are a constant reminder of driving left. But when you are on the bike, everything looks the same which makes it even harder to fight the instinct of cycling on the right side. Especially with cars being able to park in any direction, you can’t always use them as a reminder.

Cycling on the left side also involves looking over your left shoulder and not the right. This can feel quite awkward at the beginning, so maybe practice on a quiet road first. And also practice intersections. After turning left, you might find yourself suddenly cycling on the right side again.  

2. Buy A Helmet

Try to forget about your look and buy a helmet. The roads here are not safe for cyclists and a helmet reduces the likelihood of serious head injuries significantly. Make sure that the helmet fits your head and watch out for the “BS EN 1078” marking. That means that your helmet meets the strict British and European safety requirements. Here is a guide that tells you which helmet is the best for what cycling activity.  

3. Don’t Trust Cycle Paths

Scottish cities are slowly integrating cycle paths in their infrastructure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe, even if they are separated with a small stone fence from the rest of the road. Cars can suddenly drive onto the path or block it by parking on it.

Another threat comes from those on foot. Pedestrians are generally not used to bikes on pavements, so it happens every now and then that they suddenly walk on the cycle path without watching out for bikes. Try to cycle slowly when you see that the pavement is busy and always watch out for people that might jump in front of your bike. 

4. Don’t Trust Traffic Lights

Another thing that you shouldn’t trust is traffic lights. The only advantage they have compared to European traffic lights is the fact that cars can’t cross at the same time there is a green light for pedestrians or cyclists. So you can technically cross the street without the fear of a car suddenly bumping into you when you cross the street.

However, this is only the theory. You will notice that both cars and pedestrians stretch the rules of traffic lights a bit. Since Scottish traffic lights don’t let pedestrians and cars pass at the same time, it results in long waiting times. While Germans wouldn’t cross a red traffic light even if there is no car in sight, jaywalking is so normal in the UK that people don’t even know what the term means.

So, if you are on a bike, always slow down at green traffic lights and make sure that no car or pedestrian might knock you over.

5. Plan Your Route To Avoid Intersections

Since the streets in Scotland are generally not very safe for cyclists, always check roughly which route you want to follow before jumping on your bike. Planning routes makes cycling more complicated than it should be, but fewer intersections and quiet roads reduce the likelihood of an accident and also improve your experience on the bike.

If you plan a long cycle trip, watch out for blue signs. These signs are made for cyclists and show you more quiet routes.

6. Wear A Bright Jacket

If you decide to go for a ride on your bike, think about what jacket you want to wear. If you want cars to notice you, then a black jacket is not the best choice. The best jackets that increase the chance of other people seeing you are neon ones. You can get a so-called “hi-vis” jacket for just £25. They make other people see you but can also protect you from sudden rain. Check out this buying guide that compares different hi-vis jackets in various price categories. 

7. Buy A Bell And Use It

The easiest way to make pedestrians aware of your bike is by ringing the bell. You might have already noticed that people either don’t have a bell or don’t use it because they don’t want to offend anyone. But ringing the bell shouldn’t be interpreted as an affront because it ultimately saves pedestrians, and especially dog owners, from getting a fright when you suddenly pass them on a bike. And also makes it easier for you to pass.

It’s also a handy trick to pass sharp corners. If you don’t want to bump into other people or get hit by another cyclist, ring the bell a few times before you approach a corner. Obviously, you should still slow down, but at least you make people aware of you and your bike. 

8. Get A Lock. Or Two.

This isn’t necessarily related to safety on the roads, but if you don’t want to lose your bike in Scotland you will need a good lock. There is quite a high number of stolen bikes every year and the chances of finding a stolen bike are low. Even if you put your bike in the communal close, make sure you lock it appropriately, because everyone can access the close through the service button.

Once you have a bike, you can register it with the National Cycle Database. It helps to prevent bicycle thefts but the organisation also supports people in finding stolen bikes. 

Obviously, all the hints mentioned above won’t guarantee that you will never have an accident on your bike, but it decreases the likelihood. Fingers crossed that the infrastructure in Scotland will be improved in the foreseeable future and we can cycle more safely.