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Friday, 15 March 2013

Thousands of Scottish servicemen denied vote in independence referendum

Thousands of Scottish servicemen will be prevented from taking part in the referendum on breaking up Britain next year despite special provision being made to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote.

Major General Andrew Mackay has led criticism of the lack of provision made for Scottish servicement to vote in the independence referendum
Major General Andrew Mackay has led criticism of the lack of provision made for Scottish servicement to vote in the independence referendum Photo: MOD
 
Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, yesterday published legislation to draw up a separate and confidential electoral register for minors who will turn 16 by the time of the autumn 2014 referendum.
However, no similar special arrangements have been made for Scottish members of the armed forces who are serving abroad or in the remainder of the UK.
They will only be able to vote on the future of their country if they are registered to vote at an address north of the Border, but two of the five battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland are scheduled to be based elsewhere.
Experienced soldiers said last night the legislation effectively excludes servicemen who have spent longer than a short period based out with Scotland and may have registered to vote elsewhere.
Although the same rules apply for other elections, they argued that the independence referendum marks the most significant vote for centuries as it will determine whether Scotland leaves the United Kingdom forever.

Major General Andrew Mackay, the British Army’s retired GOC Scotland and Prince Harry’s former commanding officer in Afghanistan, said last night: “It seems incongruous that as a born and bred Scot you can serve your country yet be denied a vote.
“Soldiers never like to stand by passively particularly when they have made so much sacrifice themselves.”
Jim Murphy, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, said: “Those who have volunteered to serve our country are genuine patriots and should have a say in the future of our country.
“In all the excitement of 16 year-olds getting the chance to vote it is unacceptable that servicemen and women posted outside of Scotland are being overlooked.
“Those who choose to leave Scotland don’t have a right to vote in the referendum, but our service personnel haven’t chosen to leave they have been directed to do so. They shouldn’t be excluded because of that loyalty.”
But unveiling yesterday’s legislation, Ms Sturgeon said: “No one has a bigger stake in the future of our country than today's young people and it is only right that they are able to have a say in the most important vote to be held in Scotland for three centuries.”
Under the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill, British and EU citizens resident in Scotland will have the right to vote along with armed forces personnel registered for a ballot north of the Border.
The latter can register for a service vote if they are based overseas, but only if they can provide a fixed address in the UK. If they are based in the UK, they can register as an “ordinary voter” wherever they live.
However, they cannot simultaneously be on the electoral roll in a constituency elsewhere in the UK and have a service vote in Scotland.
The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland, are scheduled to move from Edinburgh to Belfast next year.
The Highlanders, 4th Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland, are based in Germany and will still be there when the referendum takes place.
The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland, and the Black Watch, 3rd Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland, will be continue based in Edinburgh and Fort George respectively.
However, many more Scottish servicemen in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will also be excluded from the referendum because they have been posted elsewhere.
Frankie Caldwell, a former captain in the Royal Tank Regiment who now lives in Inverclyde, said the lack of special provision for the armed forces and their families was a “betrayal”
In contrast, all households north of the Border will receive a form asking parents to identify teenagers who are 15 but will reach 16 by the time of the referendum.
Their details will be held on a separate Register of Young Voters (RYV), which will be used to give 16 and 17-year-olds a vote.
Amid concern about gathering the personal details of children, including their dates of birth and addresses, the information will not be made public so it cannot be accessed by the likes of marketing companies.
Prisoners are to be denied a vote despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling that a blanket ban on inmates taking parts in UK elections is unlawful.
The Bill applies only to the referendum, the date of which is expected to be announced by Alex Salmond next week, meaning the minimum voting age will revert to 18 for the 2015 general election.
 Source The Telegraph

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