NICOLA Sturgeon and Boris Johnson are heading for a new constitutional showdown which could see legislation making changes to general election voting rules imposed on Scotland – without Holyrood’s agreement.

The prospective clash involves the UK Government’s Elections Bill, which includes controversial proposals requiring people to bring ID documents to polling stations to vote in Westminster elections.

It has potential parallels with disputes over Brexit legislation which saw the EU Withdrawal Act and the Internal Market Act come into force in Scotland, despite Holyrood refusing consent.

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Critics have condemned the voting rule reforms, unveiled by the Prime Minister in the Queen’s Speech in May, arguing they will deter marginalised communities from going to the polls and that its official rationale – to deter voter fraud – is extremely rare.

They believe rather than bringing in new rules which risk reducing voter turn out – which was 67% at the last General Election in 2019 – moves to modernise voting should be introduced to increase turnout.

The UK Government has recently sought the consent of Holyrood for the voting reforms to be introduced in Westminster elections in Scotland.

But the Scottish Government is opposed to voter ID and has said it will not introduce it as a requirement for Scottish Parliament or council elections.

Ministers in Edinburgh fear it will cause confusion among those intending to vote as well as unnecessary extra work and expense for electoral administrators who will have to check the validity of the ID documents at polling stations.

The National:

They are also opposed to measures in the bill requiring those using a postal vote for UK Parliament elections to re-apply every three years, rather than every five years as will continue to be the case for Holyrood and council elections.

Deputy first minister John Swinney (above) has lodged a legislation consent memorandum in the Scottish Parliament which recommends that Holyrood does not give consent to the legislation.

“Although this measure is wholly reserved and will not apply in relation to devolved elections, various stakeholders have indicated concern about the impact of this provision on voters and electoral administrators in Scotland in relation to UK parliament elections,” it said.

“The Scottish Government considers that there is no evidence of significant electoral fraud to justify voter ID measures in Scotland. There appears to be considerable scope for confusion in the event of a UK poll occurring on the same day as a Scottish poll (for example where a by-election for one Parliament occurred on the same day as a general election to the other Parliament). In such a case, ID would only be required for one ballot paper, which is likely to confuse voters and will place a great deal of responsibility on the Presiding Officer at each polling station in policing the ID requirement.”

The National:

George Adam (above), Minister for Parliamentary Business, told The Sunday National: “We are clear proposed changes on voter ID and postal votes for reserved elections will risk confusion for Scottish voters and cause extra work for Scottish electoral administrators.

“There is no evidence of significant electoral fraud to justify voter ID measures in Scotland and there appears to be considerable scope for confusion with voter ID required for UK general elections here, but not for Scottish Parliament elections. It will be particularly confusing in the event of a UK poll, such as a by-election, occurring here on the same day as a Scottish election.

“We are also concerned about changes in respect of postal voting. These measures will require those using a postal vote for UK Parliament elections to re-apply every three years, departing from the current standard for all UK elections of five years.

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“Provisions in the bill that seek to make changes within the competence of the Scottish Parliament are also a mixed bag at best. I am especially concerned over proposals that give UK Ministers powers to set policy for the Electoral Commission – including in devolved elections – which I believe risks interference with its independence.

“While there are some other measures in the bill that are potentially beneficial, I intend to consider these further with a view to bringing forward proposals to the Scottish Parliament in a Scottish bill.”

No date has yet been set for Holyrood to vote on a consent motion. However, SNP, Green, Labour and LibDem MSPs are likely to refuse consent, with only Tory MSPs agreeing to it.

If, as expected, Holyrood refuses consent, the UK Government could decide not to introduce voter ID in Scotland for general elections.

However, if they decide to push ahead despite Holyrood’s refusal, a further clash between London and Edinburgh would erupt, with the former seen to be imposing its will on Scots against their parliament’s wishes.

Dr Nick McKerrell, senior lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University, told the Sunday National he believed the UK Government didn’t think about how the legislation would affect Scotland. “It is a constitutional clash which could be easily avoided,” he said, adding that the agenda of voting ID was worrying. “I think the agenda is to make it more complicated to vote,” he said.

Earlier this month the Welsh Labour government called for the Senedd to vote against the UK bill. UK Labour has said the plans amount to changing rules to “rig our democracy”. Voter ID checks are already used in Northern Ireland as a legacy of the Troubles.