Step 1: Registering to vote and voting
Voting is both the foundation of our democracy as well as the most prominent form of political participation. It is one of many ways in which Scotland's women can have their say about the decisions made by those in positions of power - decisions affecting everyday lives. Scotland’s first women’s suffrage groups emerged in the 1860s, with full voting rights granted to all women over 21 in 1928.
Between local council, Scottish Parliament, UK Parliament, and European Parliament elections, women in Scotland aren’t lacking opportunities to cast their ballots. In order to vote, however, you must be registered to do so.
Who can register to vote?
The electoral register lists the names and addresses of everyone who's registered to vote. You need to be on it to be able to vote in elections and referendums.
You can register to vote if you are:
A UK or Irish citizen; a qualifying (having leave to enter or remain in the UK or not requiring such leave) Commonwealth citizen resident in the UK; or a European Union citizen resident in the UK, AND
17 years old (in some cases, 16) in England, Northern Ireland, or Wales; or 15 years old (in some cases, 14) in Scotland. Note that you register to vote even if you aren’t yet old enough actually vote - in Scotland, you must be at least 16 on polling day to vote in local and Scottish Parliament elections, and 18 for UK and European Parliament elections (Your Vote Matters, 2019).
Am I registered already?
Maybe! Every local authority holds the electoral register for their own area - nothing is online. To check if you are registered to vote, you’ll need to contact your local electoral registration office. Click here to find the contact details for your local electoral registration office.
What else should I know?
Registering anonymously: you may be able to register anonymously if you're worried about yours or another person in your home's safety should you be listed on the electoral register. Download the form and find out more information here.
What you need to register: your National Insurance Number, your passport (if you’re a British citizen living abroad), and 5 minutes!
Registering without a fixed address: if, for whatever reason, you don’t have a fixed address, you can still register to vote. Learn more by clicking here.
Registering in more than one place: if you’re a student, you may be able to register to vote at both your home and term-time addresses. If these addresses are in two different local authority areas, you can vote in local elections in both areas. However, even if you are registered in two areas, you can only vote in one at a general election - it is a criminal offence to vote twice in a UK general election.
How often you need to register: usually, just once! You don’t need to register separately for every election - you only need to register again if you’ve changed address, name, or nationality.
I’m ready! How do I register?
And what about voting?
Once you’re registered, depending on your age, residence, and citizenship status, you can be eligible to vote in local, Scottish Parliament, UK Parliament, or European Parliament elections. Elections happen in different cycles and with different voting systems, and you may have the option to vote in-person, by proxy, or by post. Learn more on Your Vote Matters or from the UK government website.
For many people, registering to vote and voting represent the beginning and the end of their political engagement - and that’s great. Others (and perhaps you’re one of them!) may want to go further. What’s next? Let’s look at Step #2: Understanding politics & democracy.