Politics

Holyrood rejects ‘Trump-style’ UK Elections Bill over voter ID

MSPs have refused to back a UK bill shaking up the running of elections, calling it a Trump-style threat to democracy.

Holyrood voted 91 to 29 to withhold legislative consent from the UK Elections Bill after complaining that parts of it were designed to help the Tories hold on to power. 

Only the Scottish Conservatives voted to support the measures.

MPs backed the same Bill last month, and it is now being scrutinised in the House of Lords.

The Scottish Parliament is in charge of elections to itself and to councils, while Westminster law governs general elections.

The UK Bill introduces a controversial requirement for photographic voter ID to collect a general election ballot paper, a measure critics say is intended to suppress voting by those least likely to back the Conservatives under the guise of tackling voter fraud.

The Bill also requires voters to apply more regularly for postal or proxy votes; helps disabled people vote at polling stations; and lets UK exiles vote longer while abroad.

However it also proposes changing the law on devolved elections around threatening voters, campaign expenditure and barring certain criminals from standing for election. 

Scottish ministers say they are sympathetic to many of the latter measures, but intend to bring forward their own legislation to deliver them before the 2026 Holyrood election.

SNP parliamentary business minister George Adam said a “lack of respect for devolution” ran through the whole Bill and quoted former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson on the voter ID element of the Bill as “trying to give a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist”.

Labour MSP Neil Bibby said the Bill was a “disgrace” and “a Trumpian attempt to rig democracy in favour of the Conservative party” by suppressing voting by exaggerating the risk from voter fraud, with just a single conviction at the 2019 general election.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said he was “horrified” by the implications of the Bill, which he called “Orwellian”.

He said: “It is an existential threat to our democratic system.”

However the Tories said the Bill would strengthen democracy, not undermine it.

Tory MSP Donald Cameron accused the SNP of manufacturing an artificial row with the UK, noting photographic voter ID would be provided to those without any for free.

No one currently allowed to vote would be stopped from doing so in future, he said.

The motion passed by the parliament said the Bill risked “disenfranchising voters”, threatened the independence of the Electoral Commission, and could “infringe the human rights of people” without photographic ID.

 

 

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