‘One of the darkest days for democracy’


Categories: News

Argyll & Bute MP Brendan O’Hara says Tory bill an attack on freedom and rights ‘like never before’

Today, in the House of Commons, I spoke on behalf of many constituents and others across Scotland, who are deeply concerned about Tory Government plans to make it more difficult for many people to vote.

During the Second Reading of the Elections Bill in Parliament, I spoke about how we must challenge the regressive and unnecessary policies being pushed through Westminster.

This Trumpian Bill is an attack on democracy; and is among a host of deeply worrying legislation going through Parliament including a ban on the right to peaceful protest and the privatisation of any media which is a thorn in the side of the government.

This Bill deliberately sets out to disenfranchise millions of people – particularly those from already poor and disadvantaged communities. Put crudely, the aim is to make it more difficult for people who won’t vote Conservative, to exercise their democratic rights and freedoms. It is a dark day for democracy.

In my speech I said: “They know full well that disproportionately, it will be the young,
the poor, the already marginalised and the minority communities who don’t have a passport, or who don’t drive or who haven’t managed along to register for and collect a voter ID card, that will be affected by this legislation.

“And they know full well that already in the United Kingdom there are between two and a half and three and a half million people who do not have access to photo ID and that they will almost certainly join the nine million UK citizens who are already missing from the Electoral Register.

“And given that it is estimated that this charade will cost in excess of £120 million to administer, I can’t help but wonder if that money wouldn’t be much better spent supporting families out of poverty – by not cutting the uplift to Universal Credit.”

The Bill threatens to weaken the Electoral Commission by removing its prosecutorial powers and independence, hand Ministers more power that would enable the government to decide who can or can’t participate in election campaigns and leave millions unable to vote due to proposals over voter ID requirements.

we can only conclude that for the party opposite, the problem isn’t that folk turn up at the polling station without photographic ID… the problem for the party opposite is that some folks turn up at the polling station at all.

With millions of people across the UK not holding a form of photo ID, the grim reality is that their democratic rights will not be strengthened – they will be ripped away from them.

It’s estimated that between 2-4% of the population do not have ID that would be suitable for voting requirements under the bill – with the UK government’s own figures putting this number at around 2.1 million.

The Electoral Reform Society has already warned that the Bill will lead to millions of people being ‘effectively locked out of democracy’ and could lead to voter ‘disenfranchisement on an industrial scale.

In contrast to this archaic Tory Government, the SNP Government in Holyrood is focused on measures to extend the franchise and encourage turnout.

The SNP has already introduced voting for 16 and 17-year-olds, refugees, and foreign nationals with leave to remain. The Scottish election in May this year had the highest turnout in the history of devolution.

The SNP has pledged it will reject any such measures related to voter ID’s for Scottish elections and referendums.

However, rather than working to strengthen our democratic processes, the Tories have taken yet another page out of the Trump playbook with blatant voter suppression measures.

The SNP will oppose this Bill and it is vital that the UK government heeds the warnings and abandons its vote-rigging proposals immediately.

This is a link to my speech:

“What we have here is a government that is allergic to criticism, terrified of scrutiny and determined to give itself the powers – through this Bill and others measures – to silence its critics, prevent displays of public dissent, weaken its political opposition, while at the same time entrenching advantage for those already in government, at the expense of democracy.”