As Scotland’s minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, Mike Russell’s job is to deliver a successful independence referendum in late 2010. This will not be easy. In the first part of this series, we look at some of the obstacles that lie in his way as he charts the path for Scotland out of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The UK Situation
As she stands today, Scotland is still part of the UK, which has so far refused to hand over the running of Scotland’s elections to Holyrood. Scotland must therefore continue to endure Britain’s easily corruptible electoral system (see last post), which has already been the subject of an investigation by the Council of Europe.
Against protests from the British Government, two representatives arrived in February 2007 to investigate claims of fraudulent aspects of the UK electoral system. They spent two days meeting a cross section of people with first hand experience of the true extent of British electoral fraud: representatives from the Electoral Commission, Amnesty International, the Police, the Electoral Reform Commission, and members of the judiciary, among others.
In its report of January 2008, the EU’s Venice Commission concluded (1) that:
- Handling of postal votes by party activists must stop.
- The “arcane” system of household voter registration must go.
- "It is still childishly simple to register bogus voters on the voters’ list”.
- "The use of postal voting is the key to using these bogus voter identities to vote. It’s not so easy in polling stations.
- “None of the 2006 changes to the electoral code (2) addressed the vulnerability of electoral fraud by means of bogus entries on the voters register”.
- The outcome of a general election can still be changed by these means, if a party is sufficiently organized.
- “the checking of personal identifiers on 100% of the returned postal ballots [should be] made mandatory by law in all of Great Britain before the next elections take place.”
- “Countering the public perception that electoral fraud was widespread was an important objective in its own right.”
Interestingly, they noted that the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act of 2002 rendered Northern Ireland’s system vastly superior to that of the mainland, principally by the use of rigid identity checking at both voter registration and actual voting. [Note: without ID cards.]
The report then went further, questioning “the reluctance, or even refusal, of the current British government to introduce individual voter registration with personal identifiers, despite strong recommendations to the contrary by the Electoral Commission.”
Astonishingly, given the weight and number of findings, the Council of Europe still declined to initiate mandatory electoral monitoring of future UK elections:
“Despite the vulnerabilities in the [British] electoral system, there is no doubt that elections in the United Kingdom are conducted democratically and represent the free expression of the will of the British people … We can therefore not recommend opening a monitoring procedure with respect of the United Kingdom.”
So even though they had met with people who had provided clear evidence of systematic electoral fraud - and there were criminal convictions on the public record - their conclusion was that the electoral loopholes had not been sufficiently exploited to be a concern, UK elections were essentially free and fair, and no monitoring of the UK’s elections would take place.
In other words, a whitewash. A slap on the wrist at most.
Was a commitment given by the UK government to avoid a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in return for a lenient finding? Or a threat made to hold one if the findings were unsavoury?
What we can be sure of, after the democratic travesty of Glenrothes, is that the Labour Party has not changed its ways and indeed has no intention of eliminating electoral fraud before the next general election.
Next: Threats to Scottish independence
1. Opinion of the Electoral Law of the United Kingdom (Venice Commission), Opinion no. 436 / 2007, Strasbourg, Jan 9, 2008.
2. UK Electoral Administration Act, 2006