Edinburgh voter numbers plummet after registration changes

THOUSANDS of people in Edinburgh risk missing out on the right to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections in May because of a new registration system which has seen voter numbers plummet.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 26th February 2016, 5:58 am
Updated Saturday, 5th March 2016, 3:57 am
Shelter Scotland and the Electoral Commission have previously  encouraged people to register to vote ahead of May's elections. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Shelter Scotland and the Electoral Commission have previously encouraged people to register to vote ahead of May's elections. Picture: Ian Rutherford

New data shows the number of people on the electoral register has fallen for the first time since 2009, with some of the biggest drops in Edinburgh constituencies.

The National Records of Scotland, which published the figures, said it was likely the main cause for the fall in the number of electors was the move to Individual Electoral Registration (IER), which means every individual has to fill in their own form rather than one person completing a single form listing everyone in the house. Students in halls of residence can now no longer be block registered either.

The change was introduced to help combat electoral fraud, but it has already led to a big drop in the number of voters in England and Wales and has been criticised for fuelling a growing problem of “missing” voters. The move to IER has happened later in Scotland to allow for the smooth running of the independence referendum in 2014.

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The latest data shows that on December 1 there were 4.03 million people in Scotland registered to vote in Scottish Parliament and council elections – a decrease of around 100,000 or 2.5 per cent since March 2.

In the Capital, the biggest fall was in Edinburgh Central, where the electorate dropped by 8.4 per cent from 61,271 to 56,068 between March and December.

Edinburgh Southern saw a fall of 5.7 per cent – or 3491 voters – from 60,902 to 57,411. Edinburgh Northern & Leith was down six per cent from 69,065 to 64,877.

Edinburgh Eastern dropped 3.6 per cent – from 63,374 to 61,088. Pentlands dipped 2.5 per cent from 55,511 to 54,081. And Western was down 1.7 per cent from 61,682 to 60,624.

The SNP described the figures as “extremely worrying” and said it had repeatedly raised concerns that individual registration would lead to voters falling off the register.

The party urged everyone in Scotland to ensure they are registered to vote.

“One of the great successes of the independence referendum was the level of engagement and voter participation that swept across every community,” said SNP backbencher Rob Gibson. “It is vitally important that we retain this level of participation.

“Nobody should find themselves turned away at a polling station this May – and with less than three months to go until the election, there has never been a more important time to make sure that you are registered to vote.”

The Electoral Commission promised more would be done to ensure as many people as possible knew they needed to register to vote.

To vote in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections on May 5 you must be 16 or over on polling day and a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen, or of another EU country. The deadline for registration is April 18. Register at: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.