Scottish Refugee Council welcomes the solidarity with refugees shown by most of Scotland’s larger political parties in their election manifestos.

We are calling for the next Scottish Parliament to pass legislation within its devolved competencies to protect people with refugee or asylum seeker status, and promote integration within communities.

This election is the first in which people with refugee status will be able to vote, and also falls in the 70th anniversary year of the UN Refugee Convention.

Ahead of this milestone election, all of the leaders of Scotland’s five larger parties have signed our Welcome Pledge, promising to use their parliamentary term to make Scotland a welcoming and supportive place for people seeking safety here.

These pledges are especially welcome in the context of an ever more hostile policy and narrative environment in Westminster, especially in light of the UK Government’s New Plan for Immigration.

Gary Christie, Head of Policy, Communications and Communities, Scottish Refugee Council said: “It’s very encouraging to see solidarity with people seeking protection in the UK, and in Scotland, from most of the larger political parties in Scotland.

“All five leaders of Scotland’s larger parties have also signed our Welcome Pledge, pledging to use their parliamentary term to speak up for the rights of people seeking protection here.

“We hope this solidarity will be reflected in the next Scottish Parliament’s legislative agenda. While asylum and migration policy is largely reserved, the Scottish Government’s devolved competencies have significant potential to impact the lives of people seeking refugee protection for the better.

“In the context of the hostile environment imposed by the UK Government, we hope that the next elected Scottish Government commits to using its powers to their fullest extent to make Scotland as welcoming and as safe a place as possible for people rebuilding their lives.”

We welcome a commitment from the Scottish Greens to continue to campaign for people with asylum seeker status having the right to vote.

The Scottish Parliament passed the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act last year allowing refugees to vote in February 2020, but did not extend this right to people waiting for a decision on their claim for asylum. This disenfranchises many people left in limbo by the Home Office, often waiting months or years for decisions.

The Scottish Greens’ proposal to end private sector and commercial involvement in housing for people seeking asylum and the Scottish Liberal Democrats to stop people seeking asylum being evicted from their temporary housing is also welcome. For nearly a decade we have witnessed and challenged, across the UK, serious harms in asylum accommodation against those who so desperately need the safety, privacy and stability of a home. There is now a deliberate shift before and since COVID to place people seeking refugee protection in institutional accommodation not communities, by private commercial contractors and sanctioned by the Home Office. This is damaging mental health, draining hope amongst those affected. We witnessed the worst effect of this treatment in Glasgow last summer. Providing safe and dignified housing for people seeking protection in the UK should never be for profit. The Scottish Greens’ commitment to campaign to devolve asylum support is also crucial.

We also welcome the SNP’s proposal to work with local authorities to create Scottish Cities of Refuge, to ensure “Scotland is a welcoming place for writers and artists fleeing violence and persecution.” It’s essential that Scotland is a safe place for all people fleeing violence and persecution and we hope the Cities of Refuge programme can be another mechanism through which this is achieved.

It’s very positive to see support for Scotland’s national refugee Integration strategy from Scottish Labour and a commitment by the SNP to refresh this strategy with the experiences of people who have been through the UK’s asylum system at its heart. Scottish Labour propose that this should include national standards national standards on refugee resettlement, the care of unaccompanied children.

Scottish Labour positively commit to addressing asylum destitution and the SNP commit to take forward work the current national strategy against No Recourse to Public Funds. the New Scots strategy and tackling destitution, enhanced by a new proposed Migration Service for Scotland, are pivotal to securing and improving the rights and integration of all migrants across Scotland.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats and the SNP also promise their support for the right to work for people seeking asylum. The Scottish Liberal Democrats commit to campaigning for this right. Every day, people seeking asylum tell us they want to work, if only they could be given the right. It is welcome that some of the parties have recognised how important work is to those seeking or granted refugee status.

People recognised as refugees or seeking asylum and waiting a decision on their protection claim are members of our communities, and constituents. It goes without saying that policies outside of the remit of ‘asylum and migration’, precisely like work and access to the skills training and the labour market, are of huge importance to New Scots communities.

In addition, we know that social inclusion policies such as anti-poverty measures to enable all children and families in education to participate and thrive on an equal basis are so important also for the quality of life and mental wellbeing of those seeking asylum, refugees and those resettled here.

Similarly, mental health support, to help with distress through to specialist assistance is crucial for so many, especially as we emerge from the COVID pandemic, and that is certainly the case for some of the men, women and children trying to settle and rebuild new lives here in Scotland.

We were heartened to see most of the main parties’ manifestos include practical social inclusion, anti-poverty and mental health support. These are crucial for the people that we work with every day.


Scottish Conservative

The Scottish Conservative manifesto does not offer specific policy positions on issues relating to refugee rights or the asylum system.

Policy points:

  • Recruiting more teachers
  • Expanding community mental health services
  • Offering free school lunches and breakfasts for all children in primary school

Scottish Greens

“The Scottish Greens stand for the rights of refugees and believe Scotland should do everything in its power to welcome them. Asylum seekers have often fled war, famine, and discrimination. Many have embarked on perilous journeys to reach safety.

“Scotland must play its role as a welcoming and supportive country, but is often held back by the UK Government.”

The Scottish Greens also call for Scotland’s asylum and migration systems to be devolved.

  • Fight to close Dungavel Immigration Detention Centre and work with local councils and third sector partners to ensure asylum seekers and refugees are properly supported
  • Extend voting rights to all asylum seekers, building on the extension of the franchise to refugees with leave to remain in Scotland that we helped secure in the last Parliament
  • Submit a public & third sector bid to the Home Office tendering process for asylum seeker housing and support services, with the intention of ending private sector involvement and profiteering in the process
  • Call on the UK Government to accept more asylum seekers, particularly unaccompanied children, and to ensure there are safe routes to the UK

Other policy points

  • Teaching British and Scottish history in schools, including the British empire and slavery
  • Increasing access to mental health support through GP surgeries
  • Rejecting the principle of No Recourse to Public Funds, and ensure that local authorities are enabled to provide assistance to all vulnerable individuals who require it, regardless of immigration status

Scottish Liberal Democrats

“We will treat people who are refugees or asylum seekers with compassion, uphold their human rights and support them as far as we can to play a full part in the life of their communities, including steps to stop them being evicted from their temporary housing.

“We support a right to work for asylum seekers, helping to avoid impoverishment, providing dignity and allowing them to contribute to the economy, and will campaign for this.”

Other policy points:

  • A focus on mental health provision, with a commitment to double the number of counsellors in Scotland and increasing the number of emergency mental health centres
  • Making sure the lessons of the Black Lives Matter movement are learnt by changing the way we teach history to include a wider perspective on empire, slavery, and Scottish and British involvement in them
  • Ask the schools inspectorate to assess how well the needs of children with English as a second language are responded to, and make those pupils eligible for Pupil Equity Funding

Scottish National Party (SNP)

“Scotland is a welcoming and inclusive nation and we value everyone, no matter their birthplace, who has chosen to make Scotland their home and to live, work, study, raise their families and build their lives. We rely on migration to grow our population. Scotland needs people to want to work here, in our businesses, our universities and in our public services.”

  • Continue to fund support for EU Citizens who seek to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, including after the deadline
  • Work to build Scotland’s population sustainably, supporting settlement across Scotland through housing initiatives, flexible working, investigating Repopulation Zones, and developing more family-friendly policies
  • Build on the Moving to Scotland initiative, establishing a Migration Service for Scotland to help people to settle easily into communities across Scotland and access information on rights and services available to them
  • Work with local authorities to develop a Rural Visa Pilot as a rural and remote migration initiative. With migration reserved to Westminster, we cannot provide proof of status in Scotland, however we will explore the creation of a physical card for EU citizens with pre/settled status to make it easier to access public services in Scotland
  • Refresh the ‘New Scot’ strategy and ensure people with lived experience of migration and asylum are at the heart of the development. This will go further than the previous strategy and include a strand for people of all nationalities who make Scotland their home
  • The SNP also include a call to the UK Government to “introduce a fair and humane asylum and refugee system where people have the right to work and to contribute to society, and to lift the harmful restrictions caused by No Recourse to Public Funds, review family migration, looking at the definition of family members, costs, and children born here, extend the rights of EU nationals in the UK automatically, or at the very least to cancel the deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme, and to devolve migration policy to Scotland so we can build a fair system that meets Scotland’s needs.”
  • Work with local authorities across Scotland – starting with Glasgow – to create the first Scottish Cities of Refuge, ensuring Scotland is a welcoming place for writers and artists fleeing violence and persecution
  • Establish a Migration Service for Scotland to help people to settle easily into communities across Scotland and access information on rights and services available to them
  • Scotland does not have the powers to change these UK-wide rules [No Recourse to Public Funds] but the SNP plans to take forward our strategy to support to have access to safe accommodation, food and specialist advice.

Other policy points:

  • Provide every school pupil with a free laptop and internet access
  • Fund the development of an online programme on Scotland and the UK’s colonial history throughout the world that can be delivered to schools
  • Increase the direct investment into mental health services by at least 25%

Scottish Labour Party

“The global refugee crisis remains acute, and people in Scotland have played their part in helping those whose lives have been turned upside down by conflict. Scottish Labour supports the New Scots Strategy and will build on this work with further steps to address destitution and respect human rights. This should include effective national standards on refugee resettlement, including accommodation and the care of unaccompanied children.

Other policy points:

  • Increase resources available for mental health and increase the mental health budget to 11% of the NHS budget, to match spending in England and Wales
  • A personal tutoring programme through schools for all ages and all pupils. Referrals would come from teachers and those working with young people struggling to engage with school
  • Abolish the council tax and replace it with a fairer alternative based on property values and ability to pay

You can find each of the parties’ full manifestos on their respective websites.

Laura Delaney
Author: Laura Delaney