However, there are areas where, like Jen Ang, we thought the bill could go a little further. We have questions about the explicit exclusion of people who are in the asylum procedure. We also have broader questions about whether the funding associated with the Citizenship Education and Suffrage Awareness Bill, as outlined in the financial memorandum, will be sufficient to achieve the overall objective of the law of fully empowering and engaging new communities in voting. One of the disappointing aspects of drafting the bill that I mentioned at the beginning of the session – I know we are almost finished – is that the only people who would be allowed to come forward are people with permanent resident permits, which excludes refugees and asylum seekers. At the time the bill was drafted, a family member of Syrian refugees who had been promised to live here for five years and then apply for permanent residence could not run for office. I would be happy to follow up on my position in writing if it would be helpful to you. I asked about the consistency and rationale for it, and he said, „I do not know why we did that.“ As far as I know, there is a concern that if someone had a limited period of leave – say, their leave expires in a year and the period during which they could be elected would be a two-year term – there would be something inconsistent or strange about letting them vote for a longer period than they could legally be in the UK. I liked Lorna Gledhill`s idea of peer support. I will make a comparison so that people from ethnic communities are included in the organ donor registry, which was basically to train peers to talk to their communities.
Not everyone will be involved in the Scottish Refugee Council, so it is a question of involving a whole range of organisations that come together – for example in Melas. The Mela in Aberdeen last Sunday was great, with thousands of people – I don`t know if Tom Mason was there. There could be a booth at such events where people who may not be involved in other organizations gather. However, your colleagues need to be up to date. Organizations should receive funding to have a voting booth in a mela to spread the message that people are welcome and part of the electoral system. As has already been said, they cannot cooperate with official organisations for cultural reasons. I can only speak to the industry in which I work. Organizations that support people on the run or in the asylum system are chronically underfunded.
There is much more need than support, which is a problem in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Things that are on the margins of people`s lives and are not considered too critical, such as voting or political education, are set aside. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to putting this exciting legislation into practice – this view also comes from municipalities. They feel it is their responsibility to address the problem, and organizations, including ours, would support them in doing so. Many others can offer educational opportunities about the process and voter registration. I understand what you are saying that there are other collaborative spaces where such interventions can be helpful. I think we agree on that to some extent. It would be a shame to focus solely on compliance with the Convention on Human Rights. That is a minimum requirement that we must meet.
Here`s a chance to think beyond that and think for ourselves about how we should treat prisoners when it comes to elections. Should we be doing a little more than what is minimally required by the Convention? Howard League Scotland says we should go further and think about giving all prisoners the right to vote, but not just because it means complying with the requirements of the Convention. It means going beyond that and thinking for ourselves about how we should see and treat these people. I do not want to focus solely on what is necessary to comply with the Convention on Human Rights. All we are doing is levelling out inequalities. The franchise is available to UK citizens, Commonwealth citizens and legally resident EU citizens. The only people who are not covered are people from other countries, such as the United States — Canadians are insured, but Americans are not. The bill was drafted to make the system fairer. If we were to extend the right to vote, I would be concerned about the nature of the responsibilities and obligations of the people who have been granted the right to vote. Otherwise, we would have two classes of citizens – those who have the right to vote, who are only residents, and those who have the right to vote, who are nationals. They would have different responsibilities and obligations. This is a concern that we have already talked about.
We talked about adequate funding, but there is also the issue of available funds. Therefore, I would like to ask the committee to look at what New Zealand has produced. Although not a personal intervention, resources are provided to facilitate personal interventions. There are downloadable meeting calendars to work with municipalities to learn how electoral systems work in this country. Financially, this is a fairly easy intervention that could be used by smaller community groups to work face-to-face with individuals. All of these rights must be respected – unless there is a good reason to deal with punishment, neutralization or deterrence in order to suspend them – if we start from the position that any right must be respected to the extent consistent with imprisonment and its objectives. People may think there is a downside. I suppose one could criticise the fact that we have done something different from what is happening in other countries in the United Kingdom. However, what we have done is only exercise our delegated powers, which is no different from a city or a local authority introducing a local program because it believes that its citizens should benefit from it or be evaluated in some other way.
I do not know if that answers your question, but that is how I would explain it to someone if they were thinking about it critically. As Members know, the Scotland Act 2016 transferred responsibility for elections in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament and this is the first orderly opportunity to legislate in relation to these additional powers. For that reason, we believe there is a problem throughout the bill and, in particular, on issues relating to the choice of prisoners, with respect to Parliament`s authority to legislate. We have no doubt that Parliament has the authority to do what the government is required to do with the bill. This is important because of the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 on the general competence of Parliament. According to section 29 of the 1998 Act, if Parliament enacts laws which do not fall within its competence, for example if the legislation is contrary to or incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, such legislation is „not a law“. I would like to follow up on your comment about optional education, which is crucial. When I was a councillor in West Lothian, we had a team involved in the election investigation in the run-up to an election.
The team has received various awards for its work, particularly youth engagement in schools and with youth in universities. However, all these teams have been involved in eradicating local government jobs. Have you noticed that this type of work, which was part of the youth work or community education work of local governments, no longer exists across the country? We do not believe that the £200,000 is enough for awareness, but there are interventions that are not very expensive, but would facilitate conversations about political education and the right to vote. In the long term, we would like to see civic education like this integrated elsewhere into the work and interventions that are already taking place in some communities. There are ways to integrate this into existing interactions with refugee communities and people in the asylum system.
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