Building a New Scotland: citizenship in an independent Scotland

This paper sets out the Scottish Government’s proposals for citizenship in an independent Scotland.

Citizenship and statehood

This chapter sets out the Scottish Government's proposals for Scottish citizenship to be given effect in an interim constitution for consideration by the Scottish Parliament.

There would be one category of Scottish nationality – that of a Scottish citizen.

Citizenship is important and there would always be a warm welcome for anyone who became a Scottish citizen. But in an independent Scotland, you would not need to be a citizen to belong. While some rights and privileges would be reserved for citizens only – such as the ability to hold a Scottish passport – all of Scotland's people would be able to benefit from the fullest possible participation in Scotland's civic and cultural life.

Box 1, below, describes the small number of rights and entitlements it is proposed would be reserved for citizens alone.

Box 1: The rights of Scottish citizens

Scottish citizens would be able to participate fully in and benefit from all aspects of civic, political and social life in an independent Scotland, including those very few rights which non-citizens do not enjoy and are inherent to citizenship:

  • a Scottish citizen would be able to live and work without restriction in Scotland and enter and leave the country at will. Scottish citizenship would not lapse with periods outside Scotland
  • a Scottish citizen would be entitled to hold a Scottish passport and seek consular assistance from Scotland's diplomatic and consular network while overseas
  • a Scottish citizen would be afforded rights outside Scotland. Citizens of Scotland would have rights within the Common Travel Area and, when Scotland is once again a part of the European Union, Scottish citizens would enjoy the rights of EU citizens in all EU member states, the European Economic Area and Switzerland. Scottish citizens would have a significantly larger international network of consular support available to them after EU accession than they currently do as UK citizens. In addition to Scottish embassies and consulates, Scottish citizens would be able to request help from the local embassy or consulate of any other EU member state where there is not a Scottish diplomatic presence
  • a Scottish citizen would be able to renounce their citizenship, providing doing so would not leave them stateless

Under these proposals, the initial rules on who would become a Scottish citizen at the point of independence would form part of the interim constitution of a newly independent Scotland.[6] Many countries define birthright entitlement to citizenship in their constitution and some also define rules to naturalise as a citizen.[7] Whether and how citizenship forms part of the permanent Scottish constitution, or if nationality law should be made through Acts of the Scottish Parliament, would be a matter for the constitutional convention, as described in 'Building A New Scotland: Creating a modern constitution for an independent Scotland'.[8]

On independence, the interim constitution would entitle all British citizens living in Scotland and all British citizens who were born in Scotland to Scottish citizenship. Other British citizens with a close and enduring connection to Scotland would also be entitled to Scottish citizenship. Rules would be clearly set out to allow citizens of other countries to become Scottish citizens if they chose by registering or applying.

There would be no requirement for a British citizen to become a Scottish citizen in order to live and work in Scotland. All British and Irish citizens would be able to live and work in Scotland freely through the Common Travel Area. There are no restrictions on dual citizenship in UK law and no requirement to register with or notify government of dual citizenship arrangements. This is not the case in many other countries,[9][10] but that practice would be maintained in Scotland, placing no barriers to holding multiple nationalities.

Being a Scottish citizen would afford rights in places other than Scotland, such as the Common Travel Area.[11][12] Therefore the interests of our close neighbours in the UK and Ireland would be taken into account, as would those of our fellow member states when Scotland is again part of the European Union. However, it is this government's view that Scotland should not compromise on being welcoming and inclusive to people who have made a contribution to our communities and who wish to affirm that by becoming a Scottish citizen.

Fairer costs for citizenship services

The Scottish Government proposes a fair and proportionate approach to fees and other costs associated with gaining Scottish citizenship if you have not gained it automatically.

UK citizenship fees are costly for applicants. Current UK policy is for the border, immigration and citizenship system overall to generate revenue, with a cost recovery target in 2022 of 149%.[13] Home Office fees for applications for naturalisation are high by international standards. The cost of naturalisation as a British citizen is currently £1,330 for an adult, including ceremony fees, and £1,012 for a child to register as a citizen.[14] Yet the Westminster government's quarterly data from April 2023 on fees and unit costs in the border, immigration and citizenship system[15] show that the citizenship application costs only £416 to deliver.

By comparison, an adult foreign national already permanently resident in France seeking to naturalise pays a fee of €55 (approximately £48 at 2023 Quarter 2 average exchange rates) along with their application for citizenship.[16] The equivalent cost in Germany is €255 (approximately £223)[17] and in the United States is $640 (approximately £514).[18]

The Scottish Government's priority for citizenship and migration policy is to encourage people to live and work permanently in Scotland, and we would want to remove disincentives to people choosing to settle here and make a commitment to our communities and economy. While it would be for the Scottish Government of the day to decide what is appropriate for an independent Scotland, this government proposes that charges for citizenship services should be calculated on a fair basis that recovers what it takes to deliver the service. Compared to the UK model, this could mean charges being up to £800 lower per application.

A less complex approach to citizenship

The interim constitution would also simplify the complexities that are inherent in UK nationality law.

The UK's colonial history has resulted in a range of residual sub-categories of British nationality.[19] Only a British citizen can live and work in the UK by right – but even then, not all British citizens enjoy the same rights. British citizens by descent, which are those born outside the UK, have different rights to British citizens born in the UK. Children of a British citizen by descent who are themselves born outside the UK cannot automatically inherit British citizenship from their parent.[20]

Other British nationalities include:

  • British overseas territories citizens, from one of the 14 UK overseas territories such as Bermuda, Gibraltar, and the Falkland Islands[21]
  • British nationals (overseas), from Hong Kong prior to 1997[22]
  • British protected persons, from Brunei or some other territories prior to 1983[23]
  • British overseas citizens, from across the Commonwealth prior to 1983[24]
  • British subjects, from across the Commonwealth prior to 1949[25]

None of these other British nationalities gives people the right to live or work in the UK without permission, although most British overseas territories citizens are also British citizens and some people with these nationalities are able to register as British citizens.[26]

New immigration rules would provide a route for British nationals who are not British citizens to live and work in Scotland and to acquire Scottish citizenship after a period of residence here. This visa route will be described in the Building a New Scotland paper on migration and would in particular ensure that British nationals (overseas) in Hong Kong, and their eligible descendants, would continue to have the same ability to come to live and work in Scotland as they currently enjoy through the UK's British National (Overseas) visa.[27]


Scotland already has an inclusive approach to civic participation and social protection. Today, many rights and entitlements which other countries reserve for their citizens are offered more freely in Scotland. This recognises the enormous contribution that is made to our country by people from all over the world. Most rights, entitlements and obligations in Scotland are based on residence rather than citizenship.

For example, in some countries, voting in elections and referendums or standing for election to public office are rights reserved to citizens or are only granted to non-citizens in relation to local elections.[28][29] In Scotland, any lawful resident with leave to remain under the current UK immigration system may vote,[30] and any lawful resident settled in Scotland (e.g. with indefinite leave to remain, EU settled status or pre-settled status) may stand for office in the Scottish Parliament[31] or in local government.[32] Our voting legislation[33] and candidacy rights consultation[34] go beyond mitigating the negative effects of Brexit on EU citizens and also serve to enfranchise non-EU residents of Scotland for elections to the Scottish Parliament and local government. The franchise for elections to the Westminster parliament is reserved to the UK government.[35]

Similarly, in Scotland, equal access to education is offered to all eligible Scottish domiciled students.[36]

NHS Scotland provides healthcare free at the point of delivery to overseas workers,[37] international students,[38] migrant families and refugees and asylum seekers[39] – and does not pass patient details to the Home Office for the purpose of immigration enforcement.[40]

These examples reflect the reality that Scotland is an open country, an inclusive community and a nation that values everyone who makes their home here.



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