Summary

  • The Stage 1 debate on the Referendum (Scotland) Bill on 14th May is an opportunity to move the debate beyond the technical issues of the franchise to a wider discussion of how we can encourage people to get involved in the debate.
  • SCVO recently convened a voter participation round-table with representatives from civil society.  Participants recognised that someone must take clear responsibility for furthering voter engagement and registration, and highlighted a range of engagement issues that need to be addressed.
  • SCVO strongly believes there must be a clear strategy to improve low voter turnout in Scotland, not just for the Referendum but for all future elections.
  • We must ensure that 100% of eligible voters are aware of how to register and why they might wish to do so.
  • ‘Hard-to-reach’ potential voters, including those from more deprived social economic areas, must be targeted to ensure that the Referendum vote is undertaken by a broad section of Scottish society.
  • Consideration should be given to support for communities groups to engage in voter registration and Referendum information activity.

Our briefing

SCVO welcomes the opportunity to input into this debate and would like to contribute the following for members’ consideration:

The Stage 1 debate on the Referendum (Scotland) Bill on 14th May is an opportunity to move the debate beyond the technical issues of the franchise to a wider discussion of how we can encourage people to get involved in the debate, ensure that they are registered, and ensure that the widest cross-section of Scottish society turn out to vote.

SCVO recently convened a round-table to debate these issues, Chaired by Professor Charlie Jeffery form the University of Edinburgh, and with representatives from the Electoral Commission, the STUC, the Electoral Reform Society, the Yes campaign, the Scottish Youth Parliament and third sector organisations.  Key points raised were:  the need to engage communities in the debate at a local level, including a need for strong local media, in order to boost voter turnout; the importance of voter registration amongst all groups particularly young, mobile, urban groups and those from BME backgrounds; and an acknowledgement that action must be taken to ensure a cross-section of Scottish society votes, and that someone must take responsibility to co-ordinate and support such action.

Electoral Commission research shows that levels of non-registration are higher among younger age groups and among some members of black and minority ethnic communities than in other groups.  It is not enough to allow this situation to continue:  we must ensure that 100% of eligible voters are aware of how to register and why they might wish to do so.

We must ensure that 100% of eligible voters are aware of how to register and why they might wish to do so.

Not only that, but those who are registered to vote must be inspired to do so.  It is not good enough that political debates time and again fail to engage broad sections of Scottish society.  Historically, turnout in less affluent, more deprived socio-economic areas is far lower than that in affluent, white middle-class areas.  It frankly is not acceptable that the politics of Scotland speaks only to a subsection of society.  ‘Hard-to-reach’ potential voters must be targeted to ensure that the Referendum vote is undertaken by all.

SCVO believes that more engagement with and support of communities must be given to allow those communities themselves to engage with the debate on issues that are important to them.  Many community groups and local organisations are already starting to do this, something SCVO welcomes and is supporting.  Consideration should be given to support for communities groups to engage in Referendum activity.

SCVO would also like to take this opportunity to emphasise that the Referendum provides in engaging the population of Scotland with the political debate, not just for the 2014 referendum, but also for future elections.  Much like with the Olympics and increased sporting participation, SCVO believes the Referendum can leave a positive legacy of improved voter engagement for the future.

SCVO would like to see more details and discussion on this in the course of the Bill’s progression, and with recognition from all that actively seeking to increase voter registration and turnout must be an essential part of this debate.  We also wish to know who will take responsibility for this vital work.