Scottish Government refuses to recommend consent for Elections Bill

Author:
Willie Sullivan, Senior Director, ERS Scotland and Campaigns

Posted on the 1st October 2021

The Scottish government is standing up to Westminster on legislation that would see voter ID imposed on UK elections held in Scotland.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney lodged a ‘legislation consent memorandum’ in the Scottish Parliament this week which recommends that Holyrood does not give consent to the legislation noting: “The Scottish Government considers that there is no evidence of significant electoral fraud to justify voter ID measures in Scotland.” He added that it would cause confusion, with voters in Scotland forced to show photo ID for General Elections for Westminster, but not Scottish elections for Holyrood.

The announcement sees the Scottish government join the Welsh government who refused to support the legislation in the Welsh Senedd earlier this month. Legislative consent is only very rarely refused, making the joint move by Scotland and Wales’ government’s highly significant.

Out of more than 350 legislative consent motions, consent has been denied just 13 times, according to the Institute for Government. UK bills have been redrafted previously when devolved administration consent has been withheld under the Sewel Convention.

The Bill also imposes new government controls over the Electoral Commission and packs the Speaker’s Committee – which scrutinises the Electoral Commission – with another government appointee.

Voter ID alone could cost up to £180m per decade, according to government figures – with councils expected to provide a new so-called ‘free’ ID scheme that voters may have to travel to pick up. At a cost of up to £180m per decade, forcing this through is a grotesque priority for UK ministers right now. Far from protecting the integrity of our elections, it’s a costly barrier to democracy instead.

The Elections Bill is not just a bad piece of legislation but a dangerous one – it’s a bill that makes sweeping changes to our democracy that could see thousands of Scots turned away from the ballot box. More than two million people lack recognisable photo ID, according to official figures.

There is much to be done to improve our elections across the UK, but instead of tackling the real issues, this legislation would threaten free and fair elections in Scotland. The Holyrood Government is right to oppose it and should hold firm.

This Elections Bill will lead to a ‘two-tier franchise’ in Scotland, with some elections banning those without ID, and others remaining open and free. Now both Holyrood and the Welsh Parliament have refused to support it ministers at Westminster must go back to the drawing board and think again.

Earlier this month campaign groups handed in nearly 300,000 petition signatures to 10 Downing Street, calling for the government to scrap plans to ban those without ID from voting.

Sign our petition to defend your right to vote

What is the ERS doing?

The ERS has been following the plans, and raising the alarm, since the government published Securing the Ballot in 2016. Written by the former Chair of the Conservative Party, this report was used as the basis for the voter ID trials in 2018 and 2019. Our report on the trials highlighted many of the problems that are in the press now.

The ERS’ petition reached nearly 60,000 signatures and was handed in along with those collected by a coalition of concerned organisations, reaching a total of 300,000.

ERS research briefings have been quoted repeatedly during debates in the House of Commons and ERS Director of Research and Policy, Dr Jess Garland, gave evidence to the Commons PACAC committee.

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The government should pause and think again about this legislation