Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Electoral Commission - Is It Fit for Purpose?
The Electoral Commission is again in the news. Only the other day the Scotsman reported SNP ministers had been accused of deciding to exclude the Electoral Commission from running a proposed referendum on independence as part of a strategy to 'rig' the poll. In his usual succinct manner Calum Cashley swiped the accusation aside and clarified the situation.
The Commission has now criticised Labour for breaking the rules on postal votes in last year's Glasgow North East by-election and for leaving constituents there without an MP for nigh on five months. The report noted this was the longest timelag for 35 years in a by-election being called.
The SNP campaign co-ordinator Stewart Hosie said: "It's almost beyond belief a major political party would so blatantly breach the code of conduct on postal voting.
"Labour needs to explain why they held on to postal vote applications beyond the two working days allowed; indeed, why they did not submit some of them for almost a month."
Labour blames the delay on the Westminster recess and school summer holidays.
Most people interested in Scottish politics are aware that labour has a poor record concerning postal votes and marked registers but the Electoral Commission seems unable to take action against them.
Politics has changed in the past 25 years. No longer are trust and dedication seen as part of a politician's make-up. Politics is now a career to many, not a public service. The public are viewed as a necessary evil while many politicians build their small empires.
The Commission want Westminster to review the rules regarding the timing of by-elections. Is it time the Electoral Commission was given the power to punish individual politicians or parties for breaking the Code of Conduct instead of spending months compiling reports which are, at best, regarded as a slap on the wrist for offenders and no penalty?
Editor's note: Tom Harris has rightly asked what Labour had to do with the missing marked registers. I agree that they were not responsible for their disappearance in Glenrothes and therefore retract my statement but Labour must be fully aware of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust report, published in April 2008, which specifically mentioned 'there are major failings evident in relation to the state of the UK's electoral registers' and his government appear to have done nothing to amend that situation.
Shame Tom didn't give me his opinion of the EC's other accusations regarding postal votes and by-election timings.