Voter registration powers must come home to Scotland
Keith Brown has called for power to decide on electoral registration policies to be brought home to Scotland in the Smith Commission after concerns were raised about the £80 fines for those who don't provide National Insurance numbers to back up their voter registration applications so the applications can be checked against DWP records. Brown, who was a Depute Returning Officer for elections while a Stirling Council employee, said:
"Democracy isn't a bargaining chip; it's not something that we take lightly; it's not an optional add-on. The referendum saw one and a half times as many people vote as voted in the last UK General Election and political engagement of the people should be welcomed rather than hampered. That's why we must have the power here to decide for ourselves what people need to prove to be allowed to vote.
"Linking Government databases to the right to vote might seem like a wizard wheeze in Whitehall but it brings a real danger of putting people off registering. Many of our citizens quite rightly have a suspicion, if not a downright distrust, of Government databases and what gets done with them. The right to vote is the fundamental right in a democracy and it should not be tied to information gathering by Government departments or checking citizens against other records. We are assured by the UK Government that the information is only for voter registration purposes and won't be used for anything else but that just raises the question "what has the DWP to do with voter registration?"
"The referendum proved that people will register and will vote when there is an issue which engages them and we should be looking to engage the people more in the government of their country, not threatening them with fines. The principle should be that we encourage people to register and to vote and we should take away any barrier that persuades them not to. Scotland should decide how to run voter registration, how to ensure that this fundamental right is respected, and the Smith Commission should make sure that the power is in its report."