SNP raises doubts on Glenrothes as inquiry launched into by-election
AN INDEPENDENT inquiry has been launched into the loss of important documents from the Glenrothes by-election.
The SNP has raised concerns after it was revealed the marked voter register from last November's poll had gone missing from the sheriff clerk's office in Kirkcaldy. These papers show who came out to vote.
The by-election was surprisingly won by Labour by a margin of almost 7,000 votes, and while the SNP is not contesting the result, it has said the loss of the register casts a shadow over the fairness of the poll.
The Scotsman understands the party has not ruled out taking the issue further.
Question marks had already been raised over the turnout at the by-election – it was, unusually, much higher than in the general election – and the number of postal votes, which was four times the average.
By law, the marked register is supposed to be available a week after an election and kept for a year. Its loss can result in a fine of 5,000 for the person responsible.
The SNP asked for the papers on 19 November, but the sheriff clerk's office, which signed for their delivery, has now admitted they have gone missing.
Tricia Marwick, the Nationalist MSP for Central Fife, said the papers must have been lost very soon after they arrived at the sheriff clerk's office. She said: "Without these records, there is no evidence of either a fair or unfair election. This undermines the confidence of everyone who took part.
"It is almost beyond belief that a by-election which attracted media coverage throughout the UK, which delivered such a surprise result and had a much higher turn-out than anticipated, now has no records to show who actually voted."
Her call for an inquiry has been accepted by the Scottish Court Service, which has apologised for the mistake.
Eleanor Emberson, its chief executive, said: "It is important for all concerned to establish what happened to the marked register.
"We know that we still hold other documentation relating to the Glenrothes by-election, but this register is missing."
The Electoral Commission has not ruled out holding an inquiry into what happened. Andy O'Neill, the head of its office in Scotland, said he was seriously concerned about the loss. However, he refused to say whether the issue would feature in the commission's report into the by-election.
He said he hoped new election laws being brought in may help returning officers – usually the chief executive of the local council – who are given the job of keeping the registers.
In 2007, there were similar problems in South Ayrshire, which led the Labour MP Brian Donohoe to call for the proposed change in the law. There have also been similar problems in local authority elections in Renfrewshire.
Mr O'Neill said: "Access to the marked register by candidates and agents is an important part of the democratic process in ensuring the transparency of an election. Every step should be taken so this does not happen again."
However, Labour, whose candidate, Lindsay Roy, won the by-election, has accused the SNP of being paranoid and pointed out that the sheriff clerk's office, which lost the register, was an arm of the Scottish Government run by the Nationalists.
Mr Roy said: "I am very surprised that the local court has lost the names of people who voted. Once again, the SNP are at the centre of a scandal about the loss of personal data, and I do think the call for an investigation is important."
He added: "That said, claims that the election was unfair are a distraction. I would be delighted to sit with Ms Marwick and watch the ballot papers being recounted, but the reality is that local people voted Labour."
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