The number of EU nationals who appear to have been denied the vote in the European elections last week is nothing short of disgraceful. They are people who live and work here, and this is their home. They had as much right to vote as any of the rest of us had. The issues that arose were clearly a result of insufficient preparation time because of the prevarication over Brexit and a failure to address concerns that were raised by the Electoral Commission following the European elections in 2014. The fact that the United Kingdom Government appears to have taken no action to address the matter is unacceptable.
The Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations wrote to the UK Government in advance of the election warning that this could happen, and he has now written again, calling for a full investigation into the issue to take place.
In yesterday’s statement, the cabinet secretary said that the proposed franchise for any future referendum would rightly include EU citizens and 16 and 17-year-olds. To save confusion or mistakes reoccurring, surely that must be the standard for all elections. Will the First Minister therefore continue to press the UK Government to adopt that system at Westminster or, even better, put full control for holding democratic votes in the hands of this Parliament?
I certainly agree that we should do the latter but, short of that, I think that 16 and 17-year-olds and EU nationals should have the right to vote in all elections in Scotland. As Mike Russell said yesterday, and as will be covered in separate legislation, we want to extend the right to vote to anybody who is legally resident in this country, regardless of which country they come from. I think that that is fair and a sign of the open, inclusive and progressive country that we want to be. We will continue to press the UK Government on those matters.
We should not lose sight of what happened last week. I will not be the only one who spoke to people at polling stations who had been denied their right to vote. I spoke to one constituent who was almost in tears and who felt that this was the final straw with all the stress and anxiety that he has gone through over the past three years. There should be an investigation into the issue, and any necessary steps should be taken to ensure that this disgrace is never allowed to happen again.
I, like many members in the chamber, have constituents who were denied the right to vote, despite having filled in the appropriate UC1 form. I do not have faith in the Westminster investigation. I note what the cabinet secretary has done. Would the Government also consider opening a contact point for EU citizens in Scotland to register with, if they were unable to vote, so that if the UK Government does not find out the numbers, we do?
We will certainly give that consideration. As Christine Grahame will be aware, we have established an advice line for EU nationals seeking to apply for the right to remain here after Brexit. It may be that we can do something similar to allow people who were denied the right to vote to register that fact, which would give us the opportunity to understand the scale of the issue. I see that Mike Russell is noting that down; I will ask him to explore that possibility and report back to Christine Grahame once we have had the opportunity to look into it.