Concerns over Westminster control of #ScotRef voting rights after committee report

Westminster committee reviews referenda rules

CONCERN has been raised over moves by a powerful Westminster committee to bring any future referendum on Scottish independence under a uniform code of organisation.

The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) recommended a “generic conduct order”, which would mean referendums sanctioned under UK law following a single format.

Critics say the implications could mean the restriction of voting rights for young people and EU nationals in a future vote on Scottish independence.

In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, 16-17 year-olds gained the votes, and the franchise was based on current residency in Scotland. However, in the UK general elections 16-17 year-olds do not have the vote. In the 2016 Brexit vote EU nationals were not permitted a vote.

“The one issue I would want to keep a very close eye on is the suggestion that all future referendums in the UK would be run by one set of consistent rules on issues such as who has the right to vote.” Robin McAlpine

Pro-independence think tank Common Weal director, Robin McAlpine, said: “The proposals for how future referendums are run set out here seem mostly sensible. The one issue I would want to keep a very close eye on is the suggestion that all future referendums in the UK would be run by one set of consistent rules on issues such as who has the right to vote. This could give us some problems as elections in Scotland already use a different franchise than UK elections because we allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. There is some chance they would lose that vote if we had to follow UK General Election rules for franchise.

“But perhaps the bigger worry for me is what this would mean for EU citizens in Scotland. By the time of a new independence referendum we’ll almost certainly have left the EU and so they might well be treated as foreign nationals. In Scotland they’d probably be permitted a vote on long term residency status, but it isn’t at all clear that this would be the case if the rules were set at a UK level. Clearly the votes of EU citizens are very likely to shift considerably towards the option of Scottish independence so I do worry that attempts will be made to keep them off the voting roll. For the sake of democracy, I believe that everyone resident in Scotland for more than a set period of time should be given a say, whether they were born elsewhere in the UK, elsewhere in Europe or from beyond.”

The report by the PACAC interrogated the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), which lays the basis for referenda – which are themselves very unusual electoral occurrences in the British political system.

The report reads: "PACAC supports the Law Commissions’ proposals to consolidate the law relating to referendums. The basic regulatory framework provided by PPERA would be strengthened by the establishment of a generic conduct order that can be applied for future referendums. Such an order would end the current practice whereby each referendum results in a process of ‘reinventing the wheel’ with referendum-specific provisions required which, in the case of conduct, essentially duplicate the provisions that were made for previous referendums. Consolidation in the form of a new generic conduct order would streamline the process of calling a referendum. It would provide greater stability in the constitutional and legal framework for referendums, and would also provide greater clarity for parliamentarians, campaigners and the electorate."

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The 2016 Scotland Act devolved powers over large parts of electoral administration including the franchise.

The existing legislation discussed in the report is UK legislation. The 2013 Scottish Referendum Act drew on the conventions of this UK legislation, but was passed by the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government told CommonSpace it expects to have its legislative mandate respected in the procedures for a future Scottish referendum.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We will consider the report from Westminster’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee – but we are absolutely clear that decisions about the independence referendum, which has now been endorsed by a vote of the Scottish Parliament, must be made in Scotland, as the UK Government agreed should be the case in 2014.”

“The 2014 independence referendum met the highest international standards of fairness, transparency and propriety. We have made clear that, in light of Scotland facing the prospect of being taken out of the EU against its democratic will, it is only fair that people are given a choice between Brexit and independence, and that further referendum will maintain the high standards of the 2014 vote.

Picture courtesy of UK Parliament

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