Sunday, 24 June 2012
SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford has called for an end to delays from the UK Government in revising rules which could stop women who have been domestically abused from safely voting in Scotland.
Across the UK, anonymous registration is available to voters who can provide evidence of a court order offering legal protection from an abusive ex-partner to an electoral registration officer. But this direct route is not open to women who hold some interdicts commonly granted by courts in Scotland.
Instead many women in Scotland face a two-tier system and must apply to the Chief Constable or chief social work officer who has to “attest" that they have experienced abuse. Concerns have been raised by Scottish Women’s Aid that the added complication could make women less likely to vote and potentially add to the risk.
Dr Whiteford, the MP for Banff and Buchan, has written to the Scotland Office raising the matter and called for a timetable and action plan from the UK Government to bring forward the necessary changes. The response from the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, noted the concerns from Scottish Women’s Aid, but still offered no clear timetable for progress. The response indicated that work still needed to be undertaken, including consultation with the Electoral Commission, EROs and others.
Dr Whiteford said:
“The UK Government has had six years to revise the rules and make sure all women in Scotland feel able to safely vote. There is no excuse for further delays.
“If the need for protection has been justified to a Scottish court, then surely this is evidence enough to justify anonymous registration. Women should not have to go through further scrutiny, recounting their experiences again to another third party. The route to anonymous voting should be straight-forward and stress free.
“Voting is a right and it is not in the interests of democracy to make it more difficult. There is no reason why this cannot be resolved before the next elections - the European elections and the referendum on Scotland’s future in 2014.
“According to Scottish Women’s Aid, one in five Scottish women experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lives. It affects women from all walks of life, and is a hidden scourge on society that cannot be tolerated. Those who have experienced domestic abuse must have the support and protection they need to help rebuild their lives. One part of this is the ability to vote safely.
“The UK Government has been sitting on its hands for six years – it’s time to stop procrastinating and revise the rules so that all women in Scotland feel able to exercise their right to vote free from fear."
The general provisions setting up the process of anonymous voting registration were introduced in the Electoral Administration Act 2006.
Direct application for anonymous registration is not available because the most commonly used Scottish civil protection orders were not included in the list of prescribed orders which can be used as evidence. The prescribed requirements are set out in the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001 and equivalent regulations in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. Of the 11 orders only 2 are orders issued under Scots law in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – no other Scottish protective orders are included.
Scottish Women’s Aid have had meetings with The Scotland Office to rectify this issue since 2006.