Scottish Affairs CommitteeSupplementary written evidence submitted by John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, The Electoral Commission

Thank you for the opportunity to appear in front of your Committee last week, During the course of our oral evidence we undertook to come back to the Committee on a couple of issues where we could not provide detailed answers at that time I hope that this letter will address those outstanding questions.

Restrictions on Referendum Material Produced by Publicly Funded Bodies

The Committee asked us for our views: on what period of time before polling day local and central Government should be restricted from putting out promotional material about the referendum.

Section 125 of PPERA currently restricts publicly-funded bodies from publishing material about the referendum for 28 days prior to polling day. This restriction applies to information about the referendum and the question, as well as material related to the campaign arguments or designed to encourage participation.

In our report on the 5 May referendum we recommended that the prohibition on publication of promotional material about the referendum by publicly-funded bodies or individuals should commence at the same time as the beginning of the referendum period (ie the date from which campaigners can be registered as permitted participants and the regulation of referendum campaign spending begins), We believe that this would reduce the risk that the use of public money is perceived as giving an unfair advantage to one side of the argument or the other.

However, we also noted in our report that the current prohibition meant that for 28 days before polling day we had to ask Counting Officers in local authorities to carry out local activities to provide neutral information about the referendum on behalf of the Electoral Commission to ensure that they did not fall foul of the prohibition. In light of this we have also recommended in our report that for future referendums the law should be changed so that similar activities carried out by Counting Officers are exempt from the prohibition on the publication of referendum material by publicly-funded bodies or individuals.

Research on Voting Behaviour on 5 May

You asked in our session whether there was any evidence that the combination of polls had an effect on voting behaviour, with the views of voters on parties influencing how they voted in the referendum. As we noted at the meeting, the Commission would not undertake this type of research ourselves and our research team have told us that they are not aware of any research by other bodies or individuals on this topic which has been published to date. Should we become aware of any in future we will draw it to the Committee’s attention.

I trust that the information in this letter has answered the outstanding queries but do get in touch if we can be of further help.

November 2011

Prepared 4th May 2012