Submission to the Smith Commission
23 October 2014
Below is my submission to the Smith Commission made on 22nd October. Thanks to @allancook3 for drawing my attention to the way election law is devolved to states in the US.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a say in Scotland's future.
My submission is confined to one small area of our constitution, but one which I believe has the power to bring changes to all areas of Scottish and UK society over future years. Control over elections and the voting franchise.
I understand that at present full control of European and Westminster elections, and the franchise in Local Elections are reserved matters.
I believe this should be almost entirely devolved to the Scottish parliament.
My argument will concentrate on the control of Westminster elections as if I can make a case for that then the case for control of European and Local elections will clearly follow.
The current situation is that in Westminster elections a single voting system and franchise exists across the entire UK. The UK parliament sets constituency boundaries and at present uses the first past the post system with votes for UK, RoI and Commonwealth citizens of 18 years and older.
My submission is that the entirety of this should be devolved to the Scottish parliament, excepting the setting of the number of MPs (currently 59) which Scotland sends to Westminster. Holyrood should be able to change the voting system to one of proportional representation if it wishes, and to extend the franchise to those of 16 years or older, or to EU and other citizens resident in Scotland.
I believe it should be a responsibility of the Scottish government to encourage involvement in politics by the people of Scotland, and to do this it needs the powers to make elections more relevant to our citizens.
Forty years of a '4-party system', the creation of the Scottish parliament elected by PR and the independence referendum have all increased the sophistication of the Scottish electorate in a way which is not reflected in England. The remarkable turnout and interest in the referendum has been almost unanimously acclaimed. Maintaining that level of interest in politics should be one of the main intentions of your commission.
I would not wish to preempt the decisions of a Scottish parliament if given these powers, but I believe that the first-past-the-post system is not fit for a modern democracy and stifles political interest in the electorate who in most constituencies know that their vote is rendered meaningless by them residing in a 'safe seat'. Changes made here in Scotland could act as examples to those in the rest of the UK, as the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17yo did in the independence referendum. Many in Westminster are on record as having changed their views on the franchise due to the success of this Holyrood action.
The PR-elected devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have a much higher percentage of women members than Westminster, although the number of FPTP-elected Scottish MPs is poor - the Scottish parliament could use the powers to explore ways of encouraging more women MPs and increasing equality. Devolution of these powers gives Scotland the chance to lead the rest of the UK towards an improved constitution.
Because the control of the number of MPs from Scotland would remain with Westminster, there should be no grounds for the argument that extension of the franchise in Scotland somehow 'disenfranchises' voters or non-voters in the rest of the UK. It would be up to us to decide how to elect our allotted members and up to authorities in the rest of the UK to decide for themselves.
Nor should an argument that this system would be unworkable or unusual be made against it - in the United States each state sets its own election rules, even for the presidential elections.
It seems unlikely that this change would have any significant financial effect on Scotland or the rest of the UK - the structures needed to manage this are already in place for Holyrood elections.