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Scottish referendum well run and provides lessons for future referendums in UK

Published: 16 Dec 2014

The Scottish independence referendum was well run, with high levels of voter satisfaction in the voting process, according to a report published today by the Electoral Commission. The report identifies important lessons from Scotland about how to run future referendums successfully, including the expected referendum on further devolution in Wales and a possible referendum on UK membership of the European Union.

At 84.6%, the turnout at the referendum was the highest for any Scotland-wide poll since universal suffrage, and the Commission found that 94% of voters who cast their vote at a polling station and 98 % of voters who cast a vote by post were satisfied with the process. This was particularly noteworthy since the Commission’s research also found that of those who reported voting at the referendum, 10% claimed to have voted for the first time.

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said:

“On almost every measure of participation the referendum exceeded anything we have seen before and people overwhelmingly said they found the experience of voting positive.  This is thanks to the commitment and hard work of those running the referendum, but it also provides a lesson in how to legislate and plan for referendums that policy makers across the UK should learn from.”
 
4,283,938 people were registered to vote in the referendum.  109,593 of them were aged 16 or 17 on the day of the poll. 75% of these young people reported having voted at the referendum and, of these, 97% said they intended to vote again in future elections and referendums.

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said:

“It’ll be for the relevant Parliament to decide what the franchise should be for any future election or referendum, but our report shows how it can be extended in a way that ensures 16 and 17 year olds can participate fully.    Anyone considering lowering the voting age should read our report carefully and learn from how it was done in Scotland.”    

The report says that any proposal to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds needs to:

  • Consider the timing of the annual canvass of voters so that young people are fully included in it
  • Ensure robust plans are in place for registering and conducting public awareness activities with any new voters.
  • Consider how the data of people not yet 16 will be protected.

The Commission has also highlighted that, whilst the date of any future referendum in the UK should be considered on a case by case basis, for referendums on high-profile issues likely to attract cross-party campaigning,  such as on the UK’s membership of the EU, then the referendum should not be held on the same day as other polls. This would help ensure that campaigners are able to plan their activity more effectively and would enable voters to focus on the issues at stake in the referendum.

The Commission’s report also commends the Scottish Government and Parliament for ensuring that the legislation for the referendum was in place well before the poll. In contrast to the May 2011 referendum on the UK Parliamentary voting system where the legislation was passed just three months ahead of the polls, legislation for the Scottish referendum was passed nine months before polling day. This underpinned the effective delivery of the referendum, giving adequate time for administrators and campaigners to plan for their respective roles.

John McCormick concluded:

“The Commission wants those legislating for any future referendum, to follow the example of the Scottish referendum and ensure that all legislation is in place at least six months before it has to be implemented or complied with by campaigners, Electoral Registration Officers or Counting Officers.

“The Scottish referendum clearly shows that early legislation not only makes for a better run poll, but also ensures the debate focuses on the real issues at stake rather than on arguments about the process.” 

Ends

The full report is available to view at: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/179812/Scottish-independence-referendum-report.pdf

For further information contact:
Sarah Mackie in the Electoral Commission press office on 0131 225 0211 or smackie@electoralcommission.org.uk
Out of office hours 07789 920 414

Notes to editor

  1. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulation of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  2. The Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 gave the Commission a number of responsibilities for the Scottish referendum for which we report directly to the Scottish Parliament. This includes reporting to the Scottish Parliament on the conduct of the referendum.

Journalist