The Scottish government has published new proposals for how someone would be able to obtain Scottish citizenship in a independent Scotland. These proposals were published in a research paper entitled ‘Citizenship in an independent Scotland’.


The report’s release comes at a time when Scottish independence currently seems to be a remote possibility. The sudden departure last year of popular SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and polling indicating that the majority of Scots wish to remain as part of the UK makes the idea of Scottish independence more unlikely than it has been in recent times.


The last referendum Scotland had on the subject of independence was in 2014, when the Scottish electorate voted to remain as part of the United Kingdom by 55.3% to 44.7%. While the Scottish government have attempted to hold another one, this requires the consent of the UK government in Westminster, following an November 2022 Supreme Court decision.


While independence may seem unlikely right now,  it is still worth thinking about how Scottish citizenship would operate in an independent Scotland. The First Minister, Humza Yousuf, has said there would be four ways of obtaining citizenship in an independent Scotland. So what are they?


Keep reading to find out.


Ways to become a Scottish citizen


The four ways of becoming a Scottish citizen will include the following:


  • automatic entitlement on the day of independence
  • by birth after independence
  • by registering as a Scottish citizen, or
  • by applying to become a Scottish citizen


Automatic entitlement


Automatic entitlement to Scottish citizenship would occur on the day when Scotland became independent if you are already a British citizen and:

  • live in Scotland
  • were born in Scotland
  • you have a parent who was a British citizen born in Scotland
  • Or, if you previously lived in Scotland for 10 years, or 5 years if you are a child. There would also be a pro rata calculation for young adults


It would however be possible to opt out of Scottish citizenship if you did not wish to automatically become a Scottish citizen.


Birth after independence


Children who are born in Scotland after independence would automatically become Scottish citizens if at least one of their parents is:


  • A Scottish citizen
  • A British or Irish citizen
  • “Settled” in Scotland according to Scottish immigration law.


They would also be entitled to Scottish citizenship if they are born outside Scotland but at least one of the child’s parents is Scottish.


Registering after Scottish independence


There would also be an option to register as a Scottish citizen.


This option would be available to both British and Irish citizens living in Scotland, as well as children of any nationality who were brought up in Scotland and are currently living there.


Applying to become a Scottish citizen


Finally, there would also be an option to apply to become a Scottish citizen. Like the UK in its current form, this would be known as “naturalisation”.


A person would be able to apply for Scottish citizenship if they had lived in Scotland for five years and had been settled in Scotland for at least 12 months.



Rejoining the EU


A key feature of the Scottish government’s plan is their intention to “rejoin the EU”. They also pointed out that they want to retain the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland , and maintain “communication” with the UK and Ireland in the future. In other words, British and Irish nationals, even after Scotland’s independence, can continue to freely enter, leave and even live in Scotland.


In addition, Scotland will allow citizens to hold dual citizenship. In other words, a person can hold British and Scottish citizenship at the same time. The Scottish government intends to adopt the “Irish-style” nationality rules, and to make the “road to naturalization” easier for immigrants. This will open a new path for applicants whose grandparents/grandparents are Scots.


Moreover, if the Scottish passport is really implemented, it will enable people holding Scottish passports to regain the “right to move freely” on the premise of “re-entering the European Union” in the future. The Scottish passport would then seem to be more practical than the British passport! This may replicate a scenario where lots of British citizens of Irish ancestry applied for Irish passports after Brexit to enjoy the benefits of EU citizenship.


Our thoughts


These proposals by the Scottish government are a clear attempt to outmanoeuvre Westminster by offering a friendlier, more welcoming immigration policy. At a time when the UK’s Conservative government continues to tighten its immigration controls, the hope is clearly that having an open immigration policy will attract more people to Scotland.


An independent Scotland would require a vibrant, dynamic economy if it departed the UK, so it is understandable that an independent Scottish government would wish to introduce an immigration policy that would be flexible and adaptable.


Nevertheless, as mentioned previously it currently seems unlikely that Scotland will become an independent nation, particularly given Westminster’s reluctance to grant the Scottish government the power to hold a referendum. It does however signify the disparity in how the governments of the two countries view immigration and citizenship.


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