Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Missing Voters

– in the Scottish Parliament on 27th January 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-15307, in the name of Claire Baker, on 10 million missing voters. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the report by the Smith Institute, 10 million missing voters!: a briefing report on the failings of the new electoral registration system, which claims that as many as 10 million people may not be registered to vote across the UK; understands that recent changes to voter registration toward a system of individual electoral registration could have seen as many as 230,000 voters in Scotland, including in Mid Scotland and Fife, lost from the electoral register, making it one of the worst affected regions in the UK; believes that this will have an adverse impact and will create a democratic deficit in the lead up to the 2016 Scottish election and the referendum on EU membership; understands also that the Boundary Commission for Scotland is due to begin reviewing constituency boundaries in 2016; believes that such a large number of unregistered voters will result in distorted electoral maps and underrepresentation of urban areas and young people, renters, certain ethnic minorities and students, and notes the view that the number of unregistered voters in Scotland and throughout the UK is something that all political parties should work to address.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I thank the members who signed my motion, enabling this debate to take place. We are fewer than 100 days away from the Scottish Parliament election, and thoughts are focusing on how we secure votes. As the motion highlights, we face a significant challenge with electoral registration.

Electoral registration underpins our democratic system. The accuracy, comprehensiveness and integrity of the register is vital to a healthy democracy. That is why the Smith Institute’s report “10 million missing voters! A briefing report on the failings of the new electoral registration system”, and Hope not Hate’s report “Britain’s missing voters: Individual Electoral Registration and the Boundary Review” are so concerning.

It is feared that hundreds of thousands of voters in Scotland will be lost from the electoral register as a result of the rush to a new electoral registration system. The new register was originally due to be finalised in December 2016, but the United Kingdom Government shortened the transition period so that it ended in December 2015. During the transition period, details of voters on the existing register had to be verified; voters whose details could not be verified in the shortened timescale were removed from the register.

Scotland is one of the areas in the UK that is most affected by the change. The level of unregistered citizens risks undermining our democracy as we approach this year’s election, next year’s local authority elections and the European Union referendum. It will also have a profound impact on the Boundary Commission’s upcoming review of Westminster constituency seats in the UK and will potentially lead to distorted electoral maps and underrepresentation of minorities, students, renters and young people. All members of this Parliament should be concerned by the situation and should work together to address it. We have a responsibility not to ignore the situation.

The Smith Institute’s headline figure of 10 million voters includes 7.5 million people across the UK who decide not to register to vote. The rushed changes to the electoral system, which the Conservative Government pushed through a year early, against the Electoral Commission’s advice, will increase the number by 2.5 million. Some 2.5 million people are expected to fall off the electoral register. As the Smith Institute said in its report,

“what is at stake here is not just the prospect of party political advantage but the integrity and value of the democratic process.”

This is not about the merits of household registration versus individual registration. However, household registration was introduced by the Representation of the People Act 1918 and changed very little in the intervening century, so the change is significant needed to be properly managed. The Electoral Commission has been calling for individual registration since 2003, and the approach is broadly supported, but the pace of change, the lack of piloting and the impact of the strain on public finances on the ability to manage the change are creating a situation in which people who previously were registered have been removed from the register.

One of the Government’s main reasons for the rush was voter fraud, but electoral fraud, although serious, is difficult to quantify and is rare. The argument does not justify the disenfranchisement of so many voters.

There is evidence that the changes will have the highest impact in urban areas, among private sector renters, young people, especially attainers, students and people who were not born in the UK. People who are more likely to move home frequently are at a high risk of removal from the register. I was pleased that, this week, Shelter Scotland and the Electoral Commission launched a voter registration campaign to target potential voters who live in rented, homeless or temporary accommodation.

Electoral Commission research found that only 63 per cent of people who were renting from a private landlord were registered to vote in 2014, compared with 93 per cent of people who owned their home and 89 per cent of people who owned their home with a mortgage. The rush to introduce individual voter registration is expected to have a negative effect on the figures and to widen the gap between home owners and renters.

According to Hope not Hate, Scotland stands to see a 5.5 per cent drop in the number of people who are registered to vote compared with the 2015 general election. That equates to just over 231,000 voters; the drop is the second biggest in the UK, behind only London, which stands to lose 6.9 per cent of its voters. A breakdown of the Scottish figures shows that Glasgow will be the worst affected area, losing a staggering 67,000 voters. Edinburgh is due to lose 24,000 voters and my region, Fife, is due to lose more than 15,000 voters.

Those are not people who have never registered; rather, they are people who were registered under the previous system but who will be removed from the new register. They had a vote at the general election, but they have been taken off the register. That is just wrong. No political party should introduce a system that will lead to 1.9 million people falling off the electoral register across the UK—a figure that is likely to increase to 2.5 million due to changes to the student registration system and people in the private rented sector moving home. That undermines our democracy.

In addition, we have a Boundary Commission review due in the year ahead. As a result of the coalition Government’s Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, there will be a reduction in the number of Westminster constituencies from 650 to 600, and Scotland is set to have a reduction of seven seats. All constituencies are to be set within 5 per cent of the UK electoral quota. Therefore, no seat will have fewer than 73,000 voters and more than 81,000 voters—but those numbers refer to registered voters not population. That change could have a significant impact across the UK. The new boundaries will be drawn up based on the new register, which was compiled on 1 December 2015. It could be argued that that was the weakest point in terms of the completeness, the validity and the integrity of the electoral register on which to base a boundary review.

There are huge disparities by registration. During the verification process, some authorities were able to verify 100 per cent of their registered voters. However, in Hackney, for example, 23 per cent of the register was unverified, so Hackney lost that percentage of its registered voters. In Glasgow, 67,000 unverified voters equates to almost one whole seat for the city. The rushed process of verification and transition to a new system means that it will be difficult for the Boundary Commission to avoid generating distorted electoral maps and constituencies.

What can we do about this? The opportunity to annul the UK Government’s decision to introduce individual electoral registration within a year has passed. However, there are ways in which we can make progress. As I said, I was pleased to see Shelter’s campaign, and we must encourage universities to work with the Electoral Commission to promote registration to new students. We must ensure that local valuation joint boards are funded, and that they actively support registration. More could be done to promote online registration and to raise awareness through schools and colleges.

There is also action that we as a Parliament can take. Credit must go to Anne McTaggart for promoting the Holyrood rocks campaign to encourage voter registration among young people. I hope that we can do more as a Parliament between now and April to increase voter registration and to regain some of the lost voters. I hope that we can all join together and agree in principle for a cross-party and Parliament-led voter registration drive ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in May to demonstrate how much we value voter participation and our democratic structures.

Photo of Christian Allard Christian Allard Scottish National Party

First, I thank Claire Baker for bringing this important motion to Parliament. It is a very good motion, and it is important to talk about it today. I will maybe take a different tone—I will perhaps be a bit stronger about the issue, because let us remember that the right to vote is part of our human rights. We should not only cherish but safeguard that right.

I have signed the motion. I noticed that it had something missing in its title—the exclamation mark. The title of the report is “10 million missing voters! A briefing report on the failings of the new electoral registration system”.

The report was written by Jane Thomas from the Smith Institute. I did not realise that there are different Smith institutes. For example, there is the Adam Smith Institute and the Smith Institute that wrote the report on missing voters. The latter refers to the former MP, John Smith; it says that it is independent. I get a bit confused about all the think tanks, some of which are based in London and are very right-wing. In any case, I just needed a little clarification on the source of the report.

I was also surprised to see that the report said little about Scotland. A word search showed that “Scotland” is mentioned five times and “Scottish” is mentioned twice—and most of those references were on a little footnote at the bottom of page 4, which reads:

“According to the Herald Scotland’s poll of local councils in early 2015 some 22 per cent of residents in Glasgow had so far failed to switch over to the new system of individual voter registration. The paper warned that as many as 800,000 people who signed up for the Scottish Referendum may not be eligible to vote at the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.”

The numbers are huge, so maybe we should make a big deal of it. We are talking about people who have registered previously who are suddenly being asked to register again. We all have busy lives—some people have busier lives than we have and might not realise how important it is to register. We know what happened in that case and why. The report also said—as did Claire Baker—that as many as 230,000 voters could be missing in Scotland.

As I said, we are talking about a human rights issue, and I was surprised that the Smith Institute did not say that the fact that so many people in the UK are going to be denied the right to vote is a human rights issue.

I encourage every MSP to meet their assessor and electoral registration officer. I met Ian Milton, who is the assessor and electoral registration officer for Grampian, a few years ago, and I thank him for the numbers that he gave me. An important number that he gave me was 18,991, which is the number of European Union citizens with G or K markers on the registers for Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray. Those 18,990 people plus this French MSP for North East Scotland will be able to vote on 5 May, just as we have been allowed to vote in Scottish and local elections for years, as well as the constitutional referendums in 1997 and 2014.

Despite the progressive attitude that has been evident since devolution, I have missed many votes, and I will miss the EU referendum vote unless the courts decide otherwise. I was very disappointed that many MPs, including 198 Labour members, voted against me being able to vote in the EU referendum. It is not only about me. The outrage is that more than 2 million constituents of Westminster MPs are being denied their human right to vote in the upcoming referendum.

We must be careful to respect the human rights of those constituents, who are living in the UK—and I am not even talking about 16 and 17-year-olds, some 100,000 of whom will be able to vote on 5 May but who were not able to vote in the Westminster election in 2015 and who will not be able to vote in the EU referendum.

Democracy is not a tap that can be turned on and off by virtue of people registering to vote in some elections but not in others. People have a human right to go and vote. The Parliament must be strong in its view on the human right to vote.

I conclude by thanking Claire Baker for mentioning the fantastic campaign by Shelter Scotland and the Electoral Commission, because the right to vote does not apply only to people who live in a house; it applies to homeless people, too. Anybody who lives in this country should have the right to vote, and we should fight very hard for it. This is another democratic deficit that we need to address.

Britain is definitely a shrinking democracy, as the Smith Institute has said. Let us remind the UK Government and people who live here that, for democracy to work, we need people to vote.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

It is my pleasure to be able to take part in the debate. I start by making it clear that I absolutely share the desire to move towards an electoral register that is as complete and as accurate as possible.

I commend Claire Baker for bringing the issue to the Parliament, and I agree that all political parties need to work towards increasing the percentage of Scots who are registered to vote, but I am concerned that the motion conflates the transition to individual electoral registration with the broader issue of underregistration.

It is important to bear in mind that the purpose of individual electoral registration, or IER, is to reduce electoral fraud. The election court judgment in Tower Hamlets was a wake-up call on the vulnerability of our democratic system, and it would be naive of us to presume that Scotland was immune from electoral fraud.

The former system required a “head of household” to submit an application on behalf of all those who were resident at an address. That sounds like something from the 19th century; indeed, it was—the system was introduced around 1832. We can all recognise that the system was outdated and in need of reform.

The new system gives each individual control over their own registration and introduces a new online application process. It is also worth bearing in mind that IER has increased the number of registered overseas voters and has resulted in an increase in the overall number of people on the register.

It is my view that people cannot and should not be forced to register and that everything was done to support people in the transition to the new system. The transition took place over several months. The vast majority of voters were automatically transferred, and those electors who could not be verified were contacted on nine separate occasions.

I would also urge caution over taking the Smith Institute’s report out of context. Its central conclusion that up to 10 million people are missing from the electoral register is certainly alarming, but the figure is based on an estimation from the Electoral Commission from May 2015—a figure that has since fallen—of the number of people who were left on the register under the transitional arrangement but who have not been verified or contacted.

It is wrong to claim that those people have been disenfranchised. What is happening is that electors who have moved or died, or who do not exist, are being removed from the register. The Smith Institute inflated that estimated number to 2.5 million, but failed to explain why, and to that it added 7.5 million who were estimated to not have registered under the old system.

I agree that underregistration is a major problem, but it clearly has little to do with the new system. Underregistration is a different issue from cleaning up the electoral register, and the answer to underregistered groups is not to stuff the electoral roll with the names of people who simply do not exist.

We should all encourage take-up of the new system. In Scotland, we have an opportunity to capitalise on the increase in political engagement that followed the independence referendum.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I know that John Lamont is a reasonable man. The Electoral Commission said that it had concerns about the shortening of the timescale for the transition. It felt that another year would have been helpful in making sure that we had an accurate register.

It is difficult to explain away the fact—which looks evidence based—that, of the people who are no longer on the register, a high proportion lived in private rented accommodation. It is difficult to explain that away as being people who have died or left the country or using those other explanations. I think that the Government should have followed the Electoral Commission’s advice on that point.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

We should be equally aware of the election court’s ruling in Tower Hamlets, the risk of fraud and the fact that the vast majority of voters were automatically transferred on to the new system. Attempt to contact each of those whose identities could not be verified were made on nine separate occasions.

There has been a changeover to a new system, but procedures have been put in place to ensure that the robustness of the system that we now have is as secure as it possibly can be.

As I said earlier, given the increase in political engagement that has followed the independence referendum, we have an opportunity to re-engage with voters. Residents who are not on the register can still apply by post, and for the first time they can also do so online. We should be doing all we can—we should be doing our bit—to encourage our constituents to do just that.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I thank Claire Baker for lodging the motion. I also thank the Smith Institute for laying bare a situation that I think the majority of people may not be aware of. It is important for us to debate it today.

The particular Scottish context is the massive referendum turnout that was based on a very high level of registration. It would be a tragedy if all that good work were to be undone because of the speed of the transition to a new system. Another problem, as Claire Baker and the motion highlight, is that that is happening at the same time as new boundaries are being formed for Westminster. As I shall go on to explain, and as others have explained, that will also have a very big impact.

Of course, 10 million people is the headline figure, and various people have disaggregated it into its different parts. For example, 2.5 million people being missing purely because of the transition to a new system seem to be a very high number, but that figure is borne out by other reports. The motion refers to Hope not Hate’s figure of 230,000 people being at risk of disappearing from the register in Scotland. Although that would be a 5.5 per cent drop-off since the general election, I think that the percentages are much higher for Glasgow and even for Edinburgh. On 20 January, The Herald ran an article on a poll that it had done of local councils which came up with the figure of 22 per cent of Glasgow residents not having registered. The article said that, were that to be repeated across Scotland, it would amount to 800,000 people.

Of course, as Claire Baker emphasised, the situation has a particular effect on certain demographics. People living in private rented accommodation have been highlighted, but we could also mention students. The Smith Institute report includes an example from England of 3,500 students—related, I presume, to the University of Sussex—who had registered in East Sussex. That number has now fallen to 377, because universities were previously able to register whole halls of residence but now cannot. There is no doubt that there is plenty of evidence of a problem.

A related issue is that the registers that are being formulated now will be used as the basis for redrawing the Westminster map: 50 seats are going to disappear. The stated intention is to have more equal constituencies but, perversely, the new constituencies could be exactly the opposite, because many seats will have many more missing voters than others. That is already an issue, but it will, of course, be accentuated with the new registers. Indeed, the psephologist and academic Lewis Baston has said that

“The result could be a fiasco that would also be extremely vulnerable to the charge of being a gerrymander.”

We need to act together to deal with the situation. I congratulate Anne McTaggart on her work with Holyrood rocks and younger voters, who are particularly important in this matter. I also pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn, who has appointed Gloria De Piero as the dedicated shadow minister for young people and voter registration.

Fundamentally, though, taking action on the issue is not a party-political priority but a democratic priority, and it would be tragic if young people and many others—especially those who most need political change—were to be increasingly disenfranchised and left out of the political process. It is therefore important that we come together and take whatever action we can to deal with the issue. It is probably too late to change the UK Government’s mind, but we must certainly campaign to minimise the risk to democracy that is posed by what has been put into law.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I thank Claire Baker for giving us the opportunity to debate the topic this evening.

Political parties tend to focus on the number of votes that they might get, and we pay too little attention to the number of votes that could be cast but which are not cast, even by people who are registered. Of course, there are recognised barriers to voting, including literacy problems, lack of access to information technology, ill health, homelessness and work and family commitments.

However, given the importance of people voting in any democracy that is worthy of the name, we have to push that lack of engagement up the agenda and acknowledge that although we here enjoy a fairly advanced level of democracy, there is much that can be done to progress it. For example, we have to ask how democratic we actually are when large numbers of our population are not taking part in the operation of our democracy. What are we doing—or failing to do—to get the missing millions back? The changes to voter registration on which the motion focuses are clearly having a negative impact on the number of voters who are registered in Scotland, and that negative impact must be addressed.

Some of us in the chamber might well have experienced—or know someone who has experienced—a problem with the new system. I know people who, after completing the verification process, have received a letter demanding that they do so and telling them that they are not yet registered. Some of those people were concerned individuals who wanted to know that they were registered and therefore insisted on written confirmation that they were on the register, which, although understandable, resulted in time-consuming and expensive work.

I want to use the short time that remains to cover some broader issues relating to non-participation in our democratic process. Perhaps in his closing speech the minister might tell us more about why some companies are given access to the register for marketing purposes—I know that that is a concern for many people—how much money is raised through such practices and where that money goes. It might be helpful if some of that money were to be ring fenced to increase voter turnout or to improve registration, because we have to start to bring down the numbers who are not registered and the numbers who are registered but who simply choose not to vote. Why do people feel that voting is a waste of time? Is it because they become disillusioned when they have taken part in umpteen consultations and their views have been rejected out of hand?

The turnout in the 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament was just over 50 per cent, so almost 2 million Scots who could have voted chose not to. That is right: they chose not to. We take the freedom to vote for granted, but it has been very hard won by many people. How might Scotland change if those non-voters were to exercise their democratic right—if we could do more to convince them that voting is worth while? We need to look at sharing power downwards and outwards. The size of areas and the population numbers that are considered local in Scotland would be regarded as regional and would be a level above local government in most other European nations.

Perhaps our winner-takes-all political culture is an unappealing turn-off for many people. It is a system that values conflict. We have roaring and cheering in this very chamber, and an adversarial Punch and Judy show. In no other walk of life would that be even considered.

The German constitution forbids national Government interference in regional government matters; Angela Merkel could not suggest a council tax freeze, for example. Regardless of what we think about the impact of that freeze, it means that power is taken away from local people.

We have an unelected House of Lords and an outdated and divisive electoral system that forces politicians to ignore huge parts of the population. We need a democracy that encourages a culture in which we collaborate with people and include everyone. To a great extent, the referendum demonstrated that the millions who do not vote in local, national and UK elections are interested and are more than engaged when they believe that they have the power to change things.

It is important that we as a Parliament take all the action that we can take to ensure that individual registration is properly resourced and administered, and that no one loses their right to vote. Let us do all that we can. This is not a party-political issue. We have to encourage everyone in Scotland to participate in our democratic process.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I thank Claire Baker for bringing this important and timely debate to the chamber. I welcome the consensus across the Parliament today.

The transition to individual electoral registration in Scotland began on 19 September 2014, immediately after the independence referendum. As Malcolm Chisholm said, the referendum saw an unprecedented engagement in the electoral process, and it is one that we all have a responsibility to foster for future elections, whatever side we were on in the referendum.

The Government shares Claire Baker’s concerns that the UK Government’s actions around IER undermine all our efforts and risk thousands of people being disenfranchised. IER replaces the system in which one person in each household completed the annual canvas form with requirements for each person to apply individually to register and for their identity to be checked against other records. As Claire Baker and John Lamont said, the UK Government’s rationale is that moving to individual electoral registration will reduce the risk of electoral fraud.

During the transition period, all existing registered electors whose names and addresses matched data held by the Department for Work and Pensions or local authorities were transferred to the new IER registration system as confirmed electors. Since 19 September 2014, the identity of all new registration applicants has been verified before they are added to the new register. If they cannot be verified, the individual has to provide other evidence of their identity.

As members will be aware, this Government was absolutely opposed, as were colleagues on other benches, to the Westminster Government’s decision to bring forward the end of the IER transition period to 1 December 2015. We welcomed the opposition to that in both houses at Westminster, but unfortunately neither of the motions to annul was successful. The Westminster Government’s decision to end the transition period a year early therefore stands, and our electoral registration officers have been left to minimise the loss of franchise.

The figure of 230,000 voters in Scotland being removed from the register, as quoted in the Smith Institute report, is indeed a concerning figure. It came initially from an Electoral Commission report that was based on the register as at May 2015, as I think John Lamont said. That figure was the number of electors who were registered at that point but who had not had their identity confirmed or verified and were therefore on the register only because of the transitional arrangements. Had those arrangements been continued, that would have allowed those electors to remain on the register, but they were only temporarily on the register.

At the time, the commission acknowledged that the canvass activity that would be undertaken between July and November 2015 would reduce that figure significantly. Unfortunately, Scotland-wide statistics on the size of the register post the end of the transition period and the autumn canvass activity are not yet available. However, if we take one area as an example, I hope that that will give us an indication of how the numbers have changed and how successful our EROs have been—although I preface these comments by saying that there might be regional variations, which we would need to look at.

In Grampian, the number of unconfirmed electors reduced from 19,222 on 27 February to 10,636 on 9 October, which is still a significant figure. By 30 November, the number remaining had fallen further to 3,893. Clearly, those represent people who would want to be verified, but our EROs have done a considerable job in reducing the number. The decline happened because either unconfirmed electors updated their details as part of the process, which allowed their identities to be verified, or the electoral registration officers established that they were no longer resident and so they were removed from the register. There was therefore a reduction of 80 per cent in the number of electors who were on the register but who had not been data matched, and our EROs should be congratulated for their efforts on that. However, as I said, I recognise that there might be regional variations to which we need to be very alert.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

The minister will acknowledge that the Smith Institute also talks about the potential for growth in the numbers from new students at university, but there is no longer the system, as Malcolm Chisholm highlighted, whereby the university can register the students. Has the Government any views on how it can encourage universities in that regard?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Yes. It is a point that I was going to come to later, but I will deal with it now.

The issue has been recognised by EROs and the Electoral Commission, who are working with universities to tackle it. If we think back to the referendum, the engagement of young people, whether they voted yes or no, was the big, exciting thing that happened during the campaign. There is a risk of losing the engagement of such young people from the next election, which would be a disaster. As I said, our EROs and the Electoral Commission are working with universities and colleges to ensure that we can increase the number of student registrations in spite of the difficulties that have been recognised.

Putting aside our opposition to the UK Government’s policy, I think that what we have heard across the chamber shows that this Parliament agrees that it is important that we have as complete and accurate an electoral register as possible. I therefore hope that members will find it helpful if I give a brief summary of the new IER canvass and indicate how it compares with the old one that we are more used to.

Under the old household registration system, the annual canvass form was completed by one person in each family and, once returned, the ERO used that information to add any new voters and remove any who were no longer resident at a particular address. That meant that all changes could be made before the register was published on 1 December.

The annual canvass in that form no longer exists, and it has been replaced by the household enquiry form. Those forms were issued in August last year and, like the annual canvass, they requested information on those resident in a property who were eligible to vote. The difference is that, unlike with the annual canvass, that is no longer the end of the process and there now has to be a second stage.

That means that, when a name is deleted on a returned household enquiry form, EROs have to find another piece of evidence to support the removal of the name from the register. They can normally find that through co-operation with local authorities, which provide them with data. Similarly, before adding a name to the register, EROs need an application to register from the individual.

Every potential elector who was identified on a household inquiry form during the recent canvass has now been sent an invitation to register. In addition, every invitation that is issued is subject to a follow-up procedure that involves two reminders and a physical visit to the address. That is the process that is currently under way, and we should all congratulate our EROs on how thoroughly they are following that process, which has brought the numbers down significantly. Every potential voter who was identified on a household inquiry form will receive at least three letters and a visit to encourage them to register.

Since the transition to IER started 16 months ago, anyone who was on the register at that time and who has not yet been data matched will have received, as John Lamont said, at least nine letters and a personal visit to encourage them to register for their vote. In addition, the EROs and the Electoral Commission are continuing their efforts to encourage voter registration. That goes further than the 2.5 million and into the 7.5 million whom the report covered. Some folk have never registered and want to get on to the register in time for the Scottish Parliament elections.

The commission is planning to run a mass media public awareness campaign across a mixture of television, digital and social media in the run-up to our elections in May, and it will provide resources that can be used as part of EROs’ and returning officers’ local public engagement work. The main campaign is scheduled to launch on Monday 14 March, with advertising appearing on digital channels from next Monday. I think that Claire Baker mentioned that some work has already been done. We saw Shelter’s work on the telly just last night.

The commission’s national campaign will target the sorts of groups that Alison Johnstone mentioned. There will be a real focus on groups that research has identified as being less likely to be registered to vote, such as people who have recently moved home, homeless people, people who rent their home, students—whom we have talked about already—young people, and people from some black and minority ethnic communities.

There has been absolutely no sitting on our laurels, and there has been huge progress. It would have been better if EROs had had another year for the process, but they have done a great job, and they are working really hard to go even further to get more people on to the register.

I hope that that information reassures members that the electoral community right across Scotland is working together to ensure that the electoral registers are as complete and accurate as possible in time for the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

Again, I thank Claire Baker for bringing this timely debate to the chamber.

Meeting closed at 17:47.