By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, has written to the Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore calling for an end to delays from the Scotland Office in fixing a legal anomaly which could stop women who have been domestically abused from safely voting.
Women in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can register to vote anonymously by showing evidence of their legal protection from an abusive ex-partner – usually a civil protective order – to an electoral registration office, while in Scotland women with equivalent protection must apply to the Chief Constable or chief social work officer who has to “attest” that they have experienced abuse.
This added complication makes women less likely to vote and, according to women’s organisations, potentially adds to the risk for women who need to maintain anonymity to remain safe.
The legal anomaly arose because Scottish protective orders were not included in the list of prescribed orders when the regulations, contained in the Electoral Administration Act 2006, came into force.
In her letter Dr Whiteford questions why this issue has not been resolved six years after the regulations came into play, and called for a clear timetable and action plan to bring forward the necessary changes. The Scotland Office had promised to publish a plan this month to resolve the situation, but no action has been taken despite this commitment.
In her letter to Mr Moore, Ms Whiteford writes:
“I understand that the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, gave a commitment to Scottish Women’s Aid that a timetable would be produced by April 2012 to bring forward the necessary Statutory Instrument to rectify this situation, but this has not yet materialised.
“I would be grateful for your comments on the reasons behind these delays, and details of any action being proposed to resolve this situation.”
Dr Whiteford added:
“Women who have faced abuse are being let down by the system and that has to change.
“The Scotland Office has had six years to fix this legislative issue and make sure all women in Scotland can safely vote. Why have they not yet done so? These delays affect some of the most vulnerable women in society and are simply unjustifiable.
“It cannot be right that women struggling to rebuild their lives after domestic abuse feel they don’t have a voice. I have written today to the Scotland Office calling for a clear timetable to fix this anomaly.
“One in five Scottish women suffer domestic abuse at some point in their lives. It is a hidden scourge on society that needs to be tackled.
“It’s already too late for the upcoming local elections, but I call on The Scotland Office to take swift action and make sure that in future all women can exercise their right to vote, free from fear.”