Ministers have been told to ‘get a grip’ of local elections amid criticism over delays in publishing official turnout figures and “huge inconsistencies” in the way councils across Scotland gauge public engagement.
Calculations conducted by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Scotland published today reveal 39.7 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot in May – the lowest since unitary elections began in 1995 and significantly down on the 52.8 per cent recorded five years ago when parliamentary elections occurred on the same day.
However, official figures compiled by the Electoral Commission will not be disclosed until the Scottish Parliament returns from its summer recess four months on from voters going to the polls – despite English and Welsh results already being in the public domain.
Over and above calls to combat delays, though, ERS Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to publish an agreed methodology to overcome inconsistencies in the way each of the 32 local authorities gather and present data on engagement.
Director of the Electoral Reform Society in Scotland, Willie Sullivan, said: “Election turnout figures are fundamental for monitoring the health of any democracy. In Scotland we haven’t even agreed how to measure it.
“The Scottish Government and the Electoral Management Board must work to improve the consistency of reporting across councils and publish an agreed methodology. Only then will we know for sure who’s turning out and who’s turning off from our democracy.”
ERS Scotland has recently launched Democracy-Max, a year-long enquiry into the health of Scottish democracy that entails a series of roundtables and public events, Sullivan added.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Electoral Commission and the Electoral Management Board are due to submit reports to the Scottish Parliament in the Autumn on the running of the local government elections held in May 2012.
“The Scottish Government will consider these reports and any other representations made about issues arising from the elections before deciding whether any changes should be made to the arrangements for future local government elections.”