Deidre Brock
MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

Identifying the real villains

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A healthy democracy is surely not one obsessed with passing “common sense” legislation that solves imagined problems based on anecdotes: the Elections Bill is one such piece of legislation. Designed to prevent apparently unstoppable waves of voter fraud, the Bill demands that voters produce identification at the polling station. Common sense, right?

Well, not when you consider the figures. There were around 30 allegations of personation during the 2019 General Election on a day which saw over 47 million votes cast, allegations which led to only a handful of convictions. Another way of saying that is this: voter fraud in the UK is essentially non-existent.

Undeterred despite this being pointed out to them throughout the course of the bill by opposition MPs and surely by most journalists they spoke with, Conservative MPs voted in favour of the Bill earlier this week.

There is real and valid concern that mandated voter ID will lead to voter suppression and unfairly penalise people from marginalised backgrounds. We’ve already seen the impact of these kinds of rules in the USA where more than 400 anti-voter Bills have been introduced by Republican representatives across 49 states. Almost one in 10 people in Britain don’t have any form of voter ID - mandated ID has the potential to disenfranchise millions of people across the UK.

Yet the Elections Bill has almost nothing to say about the very real issue of secretive campaign funding and loopholes that allow foreign money to be donated to political parties without registration.

The UK Government insists that current checks are stringent enough but circumstances around the Democratic Unionist Party’s mysterious £435,000 donation in support of Brexit before the EU referendum beg to differ. We still don’t know the original donors of that money which arrived with the DUP via the unincorporated association the Constitutional Research Council, and the fine imposed by the Electoral Commission for failing to properly notify them was a mere £6,000. Presumably just the cost of doing business, and a small price to pay at that.

Looking further at what might have been, if the UK government really wanted fairer elections for all scrapping the First Past the Post voting system would help – Britain is one of very few countries that retains this discredited means of electing its politicians.

The SNP, despite the fact that the numbers of our MPs in the UK parliament for as long as we’re there would drop, have supported proportional voting for a long time because it’s the right thing to do: I’m ever hopeful the Labour party will eventually see sense and support it too.

The Tories, almost ironically, took advantage of this bill to scrap the supplementary system in place in English mayoral elections and reimpose First Past the Post – without consultation – clearly because it favours their interests.

Introducing Votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, a huge success in Scotland, might be another step forward. Research shows young voters to be well-informed, sometimes even more so than their parents and grandparents. They’re holding everyone’s feet to the fire, myself included, on climate change and other environmental issues, and if they’re working, they pay national insurance.

No taxation without representation, as revolutionists once said.

This Bill is not passing through the House of Commons in isolation. Misery loves company and it comes in the form of the Policing Bill and Nationality and Borders Bill.

Alongside voter suppression we have the criminalisation of peaceful protest in England and Wales and the Home Secretary’s new powers to strip people of their citizenship without warning: the Human Rights Act and judicial reviews are also in their sights. We should all be very, very worried about the direction in which we’re heading.

Democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard. You might think this doesn’t affect you; your driving licence is in your wallet and your passport is in a shoebox under the bed.

Even if the ID is provided to electors free of charge, that’s not the point. Your vote is part of your fundamental human right to freedom of speech, a right that the statistics show is not being serially abused, far from it.

What I see is a government afraid of its citizens’ votes and rights and how they may use them. Introducing Votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, a huge success in Scotland, might be another step forward.

Research shows young voters to be well-informed, sometimes even more so than their parents and grandparents. They’re holding everyone’s feet to the fire, myself included, on climate change and other environmental issues, and if they’re working, they pay national insurance.

No taxation without representation, as revolutionists once said.

This Bill is not passing through the House of Commons in isolation. Misery loves company and it comes in the form of the Policing Bill and Nationality and Borders Bill. Alongside voter suppression is the criminalisation of peaceful protest in England and Wales and the Home Secretary’s new powers to strip people of their citizenship without warning.

Their Human Rights Act and judicial reviews are also in their sights. We should all be very, very worried about the direction we’re heading in.

Democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard. You might think this doesn’t affect you; your driving licence is in your wallet and your passport is in a shoebox under the bed.

Even if the ID is provided to electors free of charge, that’s not the point. Your vote is part of your fundamental human right to freedom of speech, a right that the statistics show is not being serially abused, far from it.

What I see is a government afraid of its citizens’ votes and rights and how they may use them. ■

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

Votes for 16/17-year-olds took another step forward. Photograph: Rochelle Brown

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The young are holding everyone’s feet to the fire, myself included, on climate change and other issues

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