Delayed postal votes: Letter from First Minister John Swinney to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

First Minister John Swinney has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over concerns in Scotland about delayed postal votes.

To: The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister

From:  John Swinney, First Minister 

Dear Rishi,

I was concerned to read today that your Official Spokesperson has said that you have no concerns about the significant delays in households across Scotland receiving postal votes.

When so many people have confirmed that they did not receive their packs before leaving their home in the holiday season in Scotland, and with hundreds of voters applying to their local councils for emergency replacement postal votes, this is major cause for concern for many, including your Postal Affairs Minister who is “urgently investigating” the delays across the UK.

This has led to people in Scotland who did everything they were meant to do in order to secure their right to vote in this General Election not being able to exercise that right. These include people who had already-arranged holidays that they had to leave for before the delayed postal votes arrived, and people for whom the alternatives, including organising a replacement postal pack from their local authority, were unsuitable or unavailable.

I am also concerned to ensure that those who have returned their vote by post will not be disenfranchised by any further delays with deliveries to their local council by 4 July.

The effects of the delayed postal votes have been more serious in Scotland because the General Election is being held at a time when most Scottish schools are on holiday. If it would not be acceptable to hold a General Election on a day when England’s schools are on holiday, it should not be acceptable to do so on a date when the schools of any UK nation are.

It should have been clear to you at the time you called this General Election that 4 July with just 6 weeks notice could cause issues. As you will know, I have said publicly that there would be problems caused by not taking account of circumstances across the UK’s nations.

Returning Officers have done everything they can to try to get postal votes into the hands of those that need them, including setting up emergency facilities for the in-person collection of replacement postal votes. But these facilities are not suitable for everyone. It is important that we are clear that there are no arrangements that can ensure that everyone entitled to vote is able to, in these circumstances. Contrary to reported comments by your Official Spokesperson on 1 July, emergency proxy votes are not available to those registered for a postal vote in Scotland.

The problem has been caused by a combination of your selection of an unsuitable date for the General Election, and the timetable for UK Parliament elections, which has little room in it to address issues arising, such as the reported delays at the printers. In this case, the deadline for applying for a new postal vote being on 19 June meant that some postal packs had to be issued at a time when some Scottish schools were already on holiday.

As well as establishing the facts about what happened during this election, a review into both the timetable for UK Parliament elections and how decisions are made about their timing needs to be held urgently after the General Election. I expect the Electoral Management Board for Scotland to be involved in this review, as the body with the greatest expertise and experience in the conduct of elections in Scotland.

There may be little that can be done now for some voters to secure their ability to vote in this election, but it would give them some confidence in the UK electoral system and our democracy to know in advance of the election that such a review was planned.

I am copying this letter to other party leaders, as well as to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Electoral Commission, and the Electoral Management Board for Scotland.


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