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The Standards Commission is an independent body whose purpose is to encourage high ethical standards in public life through the promotion and enforcement of Codes of Conduct for councillors and those appointed to the boards of devolved public bodies.

Standards Commission’s Response to Scottish Government’ Electoral Reform Consultation

28th February 2023

Standards Commission’s Response to Scottish Government’ Electoral Reform Consultation
The Scottish Government is currently consulting on potential reforms to electoral law. The consultation sets out proposals on how to increase voter registration and how to improve accessibility in elections. The consultation closes on 15 March 2023.
Details of the consultation and how to respond can be found here.
The Standards Commission has responded to some questions in the consultation. Our responses are detailed below.
Disqualification for intimidatory or abusive behaviour
The UK Elections Act 2022 introduced a new penalty for anyone found guilty of intimidating candidates, campaigners or elected representatives. This will mean that a court will be able to disqualify persons convicted of intimidatory or abusive behaviour towards an elected representative or candidate from seeking elected office in reserved elections. This approach seems to be generally welcomed.  If the court thinks it appropriate, a person would be barred from standing as a councillor or member of the Scottish Parliament for a period of 5 years.

Question 4: Do you think that anyone found guilty of an offence involving the harassment or intimidation of politicians, candidates or campaigners should be subject to an additional sanction of losing the right to stand for election for 5 years?

Answer to Question 4: Yes

Evidence from a survey the Standards Commission undertook in 2022 to learn about the experience of councillors indicated that harassment and intimidation of politicians (and, in particular, women) is commonplace and can be a significant factor in them deciding not to stand for re-election. This evidence is supported by anecdotal evidence the Standards Commission has gained from its training events and workshops, and from dealing with cases and enquiries. The knowledge that it is likely that they (and potentially their friends and families) will be targeted for harassment and abuse can result in individuals from minority or marginalised groups deciding against standing for election, which in turn can lead to under-representation. The Standards Commission considers that this situation could only be exacerbated if the candidate knows that someone who has been convicted previously of harassment and intimidation of politicians could be standing against them.

Publication of home addresses
In 2020, due to security concerns around candidates and their families, the requirement for candidates in Local Government elections to have their home address on the ballot paper was removed. This has been widely welcomed but concerns have been expressed that a candidate's home address may still become public if a candidate acts as their own election agent, because the election agent must provide a contact address. A publicly available address is required so that any communications including invoices, legal notices etc. can be sent to the candidate via their agent.

The Scottish Government is proposing that candidates who are acting as their own agent will be given the option to provide the Returning Officer with another address to be used for correspondence. This correspondence address will then be made public in the published notice of election agents’ names and addresses. It will not need to be an office address; it could be a workplace address or the address of a friend or relative. How a candidate’s location is shown on the ballot paper

Currently, if a candidate does not want their home address to be printed on the ballot paper, they have the option of replacing it with the name of the council area in which they live.

It has been suggested that there should be a third option: that a candidate should be allowed to ask for both the name of the ward and the council area in which they live to appear on the ballot paper. This is because it is felt that people would find it helpful to know if candidates live in their local area. Candidates will continue to have the option of either their home address or only the council area being printed on the ballot paper.

Question 10: Currently ballot papers show either the candidate’s home address or council area. Do you think that the ballot paper should also show the ward in which the candidate lives, if they request it?

Answer to Question 10: Yes

When the Councillors’ Code of Conduct was amended, in 2021, the requirement for councillors to provide their home address (or otherwise give a description sufficient to identify it) in their publicly available register of interests was removed in order to address concerns about personal safety. The amended Code only requires councillors provide details of the council ward in which the property is located for their publicly available register of interests. While councillors are required to provide the full address of the property to the Council’s Monitoring Officer, this is on the understanding that it will be kept confidential. The Standards Commission considers that the proposal to allow candidates to publish the ward or council area in which their home address is located will help to ensure consistency between the requirements for local government candidates and elected members. 

Free mailings in Local Government elections

The Standards Commission notes that the consultation seeks views on extending the right to send a freepost letter or leaflet to candidates at Scottish Local Government elections. It is noted that:

“One possible option in this area is a change in the law to permit individual councils to authorise and cover the costs of a free mailing for each candidate to send to each voter or to each household discussed further below). While this would place the decision on whether or not to fund free mailings on each local authority, it would give councils greater discretion in this area. It could however lead to different practice across the country and an assessment would be needed as to whether it would be consistent with the Code of Conduct for councillors to make a decision on these mailings and in particular whether a conflict of interest could arise.”

The Standards Commission would be keen to be involved in any assessment regarding the potential applicability of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct if this option is to be chosen.