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.

Christmas Shenanigans in Eastern and Central Europe – Part 2

Christmas Decorations

Only four days left and its Christmas! Yes, in Continental Europe we celebrate Christmas on the 24th, not the 25th. To get us into the final Christmas spirit, we light the fourth candle of our advent wreath today and start wrapping the first presents.  

While Scotland might have the better Christmas songs, we enjoy the many traditions we have before and after Christmas. In one of our previous articles we already introduced you to the many traditions we celebrate during the first four December weeks. In this article, we’ll show you how we celebrate Christmas and that it doesn’t end on the 24th.


24th December

Finally, the big day arrives on the 24th of December. Yes, we do Christmas before you guys. In the morning, people usually decorate their tree with ornaments inherited from distant relatives. Average age of a bubble is about 45 years and they are in all sorts of forms and shapes from various birds to chimney sweepers. Although it’s our Christmas Day, there’s one big annoying thing about 24th. Which is that you are expected to feast until dinner. As a child, you are told that those who manage not to eat anything the whole day will be rewarded by seeing zlaté prasátko (a golden pig). I can tell you that this is a straight-up lie. There’s no such thing as zlaté prasátko. It’s just your grandpa, creating a reflection with a small mirror hidden under the table. It took me about seven years to find out.

But don’t get annoyed, there are all sorts of actives that you can get entertained with while you starve! I chose the top four for you:

1. Cutting an apple – take a fresh apple and cut it horizontally into two halves. When you look at the inside of the apple, the seeds should form a little star. This means you will be in good health for the next year. No star means… no health, I guess? Adult supervision highly recommended.

2. Molybdomancy – my personal favourite! A technique of divination using molten metal, practised on Christmas day to reveal your future. Most people melt lead in a tin and then drop it into water. Great fun when supervised by an adult. Potential fire hazard.

3. Throwing a shoe – take a shoe and throw it over your shoulder. If it lands with its tiptoe facing the door, you will leave the house within the next year. If it lands with the heel closer to the door, you’re staying with your parents. Previously used to forecast marriages (for girls) and university studies (for boys). You can use any shoe you like, in my experience slippers work the best because they fall flat and don’t end up on the side as often as trainers. No supervision needed.

4. Walnut boats sailing – you will need some walnut shells, small candles, skewers or thin wooden sticks and a large bucket (you can also use a bathtub). Create little boats by attaching candles into the shells (light on a candle and let a bit of wax drip into the shell, then position the candle on the hot wax). Place your boat on the water and watch the way it sails – it’s behaviour will predict your life for the next year. Great fun, supervision recommended.

This molten piece of metal is better than any fortune teller



After all that pagan witchcraft, the big dinner commences around six o’clock. And here comes another shocker for you – the menu is nothing that you’d expect. First, a soup is served – there are no rules for the specific type as far as I’m aware. I’m from the mountains so we would have a chunky mushroom soup with homemade noodles. My mum grew up in the south, so she’d insist on having a fish soup with croutons (yuck!). Certain regions also have bread soup or sour cabbage soup. However, the main dish remains the same for everyone – breaded fish with potato salad. Imagine fish and chips, but you’re only allowed to eat it once a year. Of course, our potato salad is nothing like chips. First of all, it’s cold and full of all sorts of vegetables like carrots and peas. Each family has a secret recipe, for example, we use a few slices of apple to balance the harshness of raw onion. Gherkins are mandatory.

After the main course, everyone can have some Christmas cookies, but most of the participants under the age of sixteen are nervously twitching at the table. Another shocker for you – we can open our presents on Christmas Eve! I suspect it’s to make the kids behave during the dinner, but any Christian would tell you it’s because Jesus was born that very night. Which leads me to another shocker – in Eastern Europe, it’s not Santa who brings you present, but Baby Jesus. Which doesn’t really make sense considering the Czech Republic is one of the least religious countries in the world, but hey, we love our traditions. More east you go, more wild things get.  In Russia, they get their presents brought by Ded Moroz (Father Frost).

The dinner is eaten, and the presents are opened. Now everyone’s off to watch the premiere of the latest Czech fairy-tale on the TV. Needless to say, they are usually rubbish, but an honourable mention goes to Anděl Páně (An Angel of the Lord) which is class (we’re really not that religious, I swear).


25th & 26th December

The next day, which is the UK’s Christmas day, is something we call Boží hod vánoční, and it’s usually filled with family visits, mulled wine and friends you’d meet at the local Christmas market. You can just let yourself drift on the Christmas atmosphere without the stress of the previous day. The following day, which is Boxing Day in the UK, is actually called Svatý Štepán (Saint Stephen’s Day). As far as I know, there are no particular traditions associated with this day. Our family tradition was to go ice skating or cross-country skiing to “release the potato salad energy”.


31st December

Although the following days are not considered the national holiday, most people are off work and spend time chilling before the 31th of December. Traditionally, many people would travel to the mountains to celebrate Silvester (Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve) with their friends at chat (cottage). This adventure usually includes a lot of skiing and a lot of alcohol. There’s no such year starting off a New Year with a terrible hangover on a ski slope.


6th January

Hold on, this is not the end. Christmas is officially not over until the 6 January. Tří Králové (Three Kings’ Day, or Epiphany) commemorates the Three Kings’ visit of the Baby Jesus. Also, the superstition says that you shouldn’t leave Christmas decorations hanging after this day. On the day, people’s houses are visited by the Three Kings who bless their homes and chalk the door with their initials. One of the more extreme traditions is Tříkrálové plaván – an outdoor Winter swimming. January is the coldest month of the year, and temperatures tend to fall to minus 20 degrees during the day, so you can imagine that it’s not an overly popular tradition. Unless you’re Russian.


 

And that’s all. I’ll be spending my Christmas in Glasgow for the sixth year in a row, having a stuffed turkey and a nut roast, happily opening my presents on the 25th. I might miss some of the traditions we have back home, but who says I can’t make some cukroví and wash it down with my whisky eggnog? Cause it the end, it’s not about where you are, but who you are with.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone! – from the Continentals in Scotland.

Christmas Shenanigans in Eastern and Central Europe – Part 1

On 6th December, children receive presents from Saint Nicolas if they have been nice – in Germany they get them in their shoes.

Everyone loves Christmas, that’s a universal thing. The way people celebrate it, not so much. In Western Europe, it all starts with Halloween. When all those (not so) spooky decorations go down, everyone knows there are about three weeks of a slow transition period which culminates with the first festive cheer of early December. In Europe, our Christmas period is much more organised. Some rules and traditions will make the British six-month-old Christmas pudding feel like the most boring thing on Earth. We prepared a short overview of important days and dates you should know if you ever decide to spend the festive period in Eastern or Central Europe.


4 Weeks Before Christmas

According to the ancient unwritten law, thou shalt not mention the festive season before Advent. Did you think you could get away with hanging your decorations mid-November? Shame on you. Everyone knows you can first start talking about the festivities on the fourth Sunday before the big day. Nevertheless, you are always meant to have your Advent wreath ready by that time. For those who never seen such thing, the Advent wreath usually sits on your dinner table and has four candles symbolising four Sundays before Christmas. Each Sunday, you light another candle. By the time all four candles are burning, you are ready to start panicking about not having your presents wrapped.
Make sure you put your Advent wreath on a non-flammable surface as it is the second most common cause of fire in Czech households during December. After sparkles on Christmas trees, obviously.


4th December

Another important spell of festivities comes on the 4th of December. It’s the Saint Barbora’s Day and the name day for all Barboras/Barbaras. On this day, you are meant to put your snow boots on and go cut off some tiny cherry branches from the nearest cheery tree. What you must do is put these branches called Barborky into the water and wait. If they are in full blossom by Christmas Eve, you’re definitely getting married next year. No blossom means no marriage. Although traditionally it was considered a strictly girls’ business, I was brought up in an unusually egalitarian household and my brother was always allowed to have his own Barborky. He got married before me, so that shows you.


6th December

Just a day after the wholesome celebration of nature, Eastern Europeans have one of their first properly festive holidays. The sixth of December is Saint Nicolas’ day. And that’s when shit gets serious. The way it’s celebrated differs a region from a region, so the following description is specific to the area where I grew up – the mountains in the east of the Czech Republic

Every year, Saint Nicholas, or Mikuláš as we call him, visits house after house with his two companions to check up on the children, and to see if they were good, polite and helpful the last year. Good children are given sweets by his kind friend Anděl (angel – usually a lovely lady in a blond wig). Bad children get to meet Mikuláš’s other companion Krampus or as we call him – Čert. Let me tell you from a personal experience, you don’t want to meet Čert. Often described as “half-goat, half-demon”, Krampus is the definition of evil. He has a big smelly bag, where he puts naughty children before taking them to hell. I had the pleasure to have my head inside of that bag several times, and while hanging mid-air, I managed to confess every sin I committed that year. Even the ones I didn’t. Compared to Krampus, Spanish inquisition was a bunch of losers.

Additionally to being scared to death, some kids also put their special stockings beside their windows or front door before going to bed on that day. Overnight, Saint Nicholas fills the stockings with gifts and sweets or alternatively with coal and potatoes.


7th – 23rd December

After the horrors of Saint Nicholas, you have about two weeks when you can relax and spend time baking some Christmas cookies called cukroví. Controversially, there are people who would tell you that cukroví is actually superior to the Christmas dinner. Some families pride themselves on having up to 18 different types of cukroví prepared in advance. Which is a complete madness if you ask me, but each to their own. The most common ones are vanilkové rohlíčky, linecké, perníčky (gingerbreads), pracky, pusinky (meringues) and anything filled with rum or marzipan. My dad also makes his own vaječný likér (eggnog), which can only be described as a sumptuous creamy mixture of rum, slivovice and condensed milk of around 40% abv. There’s no such thing as Christmas without an eggnog hangover.

Another highly popular festive event of this period is getting your Christmas tree. While most of the people who live in bigger cities simply go to the nearest supermarket or flower shop, my dad always insisted on doing it the old-school way. His old-school way consisted of us venturing to the woods looking for lesní školka (forest kindergarden), where local forest rangers annually sell young Christmas trees. Each dad would be armed with a small saw and a flask of slivovice. While kids run around searching for their favourite tree, dads are free to degustovat (get merry) with some other dad’s plum vodka. In the end everyone leaves with a tree and three units in their bloodstream.


While Christmas is very well structured in Eastern and Central Europe, Scotland has more Christmas songs than it has traditions. Look out for our next blog post on Christmas Shenanigans, Part 2, in which we explain you on which date we celebrate the festive event – it’s not the 25th. And it’s not just about opening presents, they are quite a few other traditions that go beyond the actual Christmas date.

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.