Covid: Why the Scottish Parliament elections next year should be decided by all-postal voting – Kenny MacAskill

An all-postal ballot would address the fears about coronavirus that many have but could also be an opportunity to increase participation, writes Kenny MacAskill

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 7:00 am
Voting by post, rather than in person at a polling station, could boost the turnout, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: PA)
Voting by post, rather than in person at a polling station, could boost the turnout, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: PA)

Next year’s Holyrood poll is under discussion with consideration being given to a delay or an all-postal ballot.

It may be that everything will be hunky dory by next May and life has returned to normal but I very much doubt that.

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It’s unlikely that there’ll even be a vaccine on the go, never mind it having been rolled out widely, so finding the option of a wait unhealthy in a democracy, I believe a change in how we vote will therefore be required.

As when I served at the Scottish Parliament between 2011-16, this current Holyrood term has been extended to five years from the normal four years that had been conceived at the outset.

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But the logic of doing so has now been blown asunder by Westminster. With first Theresa May and then Boris Johnson cutting and running, and breaching the plans for a fixed-term Parliament, it’s all in tatters.

But it should only be five years as any longer is too long for a democratic mandate and a short extension’s simply a nuisance.

Governments and parliaments work to timetables. Dissolution’s planned and prepared for long in advance of it occurring. Legislation’s finished off or left in abeyance for an incoming administration to decide upon.

A short extension just seems a recipe for a hiatus where little can be done, and minds are already on the campaign trail or elsewhere.

So, it’s how we vote that will have to change and not only will campaigning have to alter but so will how we cast our ballot.

Folk are no more going to welcome going to a poll, than be happy to have political canvassers at their door and even socially-distanced ballot boxes won’t suffice for many.

Hence, calls have been made for an all-postal ballot which I support. It not only addresses fears many have but could also be an opportunity to increase participation.

Like many, I have a postal – most candidates do, other than party leaders delivering the photoshoot at polling booths on election day. It’s not just where you might live but you’ve too much to do, so better to have it done.

But this is a chance to get as many as possible, not just the politically motivated to participate. That can only be good for democracy, but the process requires to be known and understood.

Why not then have somebody like the Electoral Reform Society in charge of delivering ballots and arranging for accredited staff to collect, socially-distanced and following guidance?

They would be restricted simply to process and precluded from comment on who to vote for. It would also still be the right of anyone to refuse to participate.

But this would make it easier for all and increase turnout and that can only be good for democracy.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian

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