Democracy campaigners reject voter ID in Scotland and call for local government overhaul

Posted on the 22nd March 2018

ERS Scotland respond to Scottish government’s electoral reform consultation with manifesto for ‘democratic renewal’. 

  • Statement from Electoral Reform Society Scotland for immediate release. Spokespeople are available for interview. For more information, contact [email protected] or 07717211630
  • The full consultation response can be viewed here 

ERS Scotland have called for wholescale reform of local government in Scotland, as they warn of a ‘crisis of representation’ in authorities.

In their response to the Scottish government’s electoral reform consultation, the leading campaign group call for:

  • Real community representation: The ERS call for an increase in the number of councillors. “This is about reviving our local areas with ‘community builders’ – rather than simply distant councillors being points of complaint.”
  • Innovations in voting: The government should introduce weekend voting, and a single electoral register to ensure people can vote at any polling station. However, there are risks – not least in an age of cyberwarfare – to electronic/online voting.
  • Equality in politics: The group want to see new legislation to ensure all parties move towards having at least 50% women candidates in the Scottish Parliament and council elections. And individuals at risk – for example women in refuges – must be able to easily register anonymously. 
  • A fair franchise – not voter ID: ERS Scotland reject Westminster’s attempt to impose mandatory voter ID, and back Scottish government efforts to resist this.

The consultation on electoral reform comes ahead of plans to consult on local government structures.

However, the ERS are calling for the two areas to be considered as one – a “holistic package to revitalise Scottish democracy from the ground up.”

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director at ERS Scotland, said:

“Participation should be the cornerstone of electoral reform and it is vital we make elections as accessible as possible while ensuring security.

“The changes we have proposed in our response to the consultation seek to make Scottish democracy fit for the 21st century – and end the injustice of citizens being underrepresented, unheard and alienated from our politics.

“However, this consultation on electoral reform must work seamlessly with the forthcoming review of local governance. It is unfortunate that these two interwoven elements have been siloed. Let’s look at our politics holistically, and seize the opportunity to build a 21st century democracy from the ground up.”

On voter ID

“UK government plans to impose Voter ID could be a disaster for Scottish democracy.

“It is believed that around 7.5% of the electorate do not hold photo ID and would therefore be deprived of their democratic right to vote should this heavy-handed policy be enforced.

“They are among the most disadvantaged groups in society – those who don’t drive or enjoy holidays abroad and risk being further marginalised by these damaging proposals.

“It is clear any plan to impose Voter ID would be both unwelcome and against public interest and we would support Scottish Government efforts to oppose it. Let’s not turn back the clock on political equality.

Innovations in voting

ERS Scotland believes holding elections at the weekend could boost turnout – but has reservations about allowing people to vote online.

Mr Sullivan said:

“We have the opportunity to revitalise democracy in Scotland and bring our electoral process into the 21st century.

“Boosting turnout at Scottish parliament and local elections is in everybody’s interest and countries which utilise weekend voting see more people attend polling stations.

“There are historic reasons why elections have been held on Thursdays, but many of these are outdated and people now live busier lives with little spare time during the week.

“In an age of increased cyber security threats, however, there are real risks to moving the democratic process online and opening it up to the threat of hacking.

“In addition, we also have a huge ‘digital divide’ in Scotland with 40% of adults in deprived households not having internet access and/or the skills required to use it.

“There would need to be significant efforts to ensure online voting did not further marginalise deprived sections of society.”

Local democracy reform

“Currently Scotland is the least democratic country in the European Union in terms of representation at council-level with just one in every 4,270 people an elected politician [1].

“It means that elected politicians are removed from the communities they are supposed to represent.

“Smaller council wards with more members – within a new ‘grassroots’ branch of local government – would help transform councillors from points of complaint to active community builders and facilitators.

“Local councils are the building block of a democratic Scotland and the Scottish Government is reviewing separately how it works, via its Local Governance Review, and how it is elected, via the Electoral Reform Consultation.

“It is vital that these two processes become one at some point soon. This is a historic opportunity to strengthen our democracy to see us through stormy times.”

Electoral Reform Society Scotland say the lack of local representation means that voters up and down the country are being short-changed, with too few representatives defending the interests of cities, towns and villages.

As a solution the campaigners want smaller council wards with more members, within a new layer of local government closer to Scotland’s citizens.

On gender equality

“We know that equality guarantees are the most effective way to ensure gender balance, and therefore we back Women 50:50’s call for new legislation ensuring all parties have to put forward at least 50% women candidates in the Scottish Parliament and Council elections.

“We also encourage continued efforts to ensure the devolution of electoral and equalities law to the Scottish Parliament. Should this happen we would urge the Scottish Government to explore the introduction of gender quotas for the Parliament.”

ENDS

The full consultation response can be viewed here.

Notes to Editors

[1] An overhaul of local government in Scotland – including more councillors per head – is required to ensure its communities are being adequately represented, according to campaigners.
Scotland currently has the worst level of representation in the European Union with just one in every 4,270 people being an elected public servant. In England the number is one in 2,860, in Germany it is one in 400 and in France it is one in every 125 people.

Source: Eberhard Bort, Robin McAlpine and Gordon Morgan, The Silent Crisis: Failure and Revival in Local Democracy in Scotland (2012) Summary Report p1

[2] 40% of adults in deprived households do not have internet access and/or the skills required to use it.

Source: Chris Carman ‘E-voting, lessons from the States’ (2018) at Scotland’s elections – Fit for purpose in the 21st Century? Election Commission Conference, Glasgow University 26/01/18

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