SCOTTISH Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil and an MSP were forced to provide proof of their identity in order to vote in the General Election ... despite the fact they have both been registered at their home address for nearly 30 years.

Alex Neil, Minister for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights and former health secretary, said he was astounded that he “didn’t exist” on the electoral register even though he has voted in every election and the Scottish independence referendum last September.

The revelations sparked an investigation by The National which uncovered a crisis within Scotland’s voting registration system and mass confusion which could lead to thousands of voters missing their chance to have their say in the May 7 General Election.

A new Individual Electoral Registration structure was introduced in Scotland a day after the independence referendum on September 19 and every voter was sent a letter last November informing them of the change. However, many have had major problems registering their vote.

Previously, one person in every household was responsible for registering everyone else who lives at that address.

Under the new system, each person is now required to register to vote individually, rather than by household.

Individual voters must provide ‘‘identifying information’’, such as date of birth and national insurance number, when applying to register and applications will need to be verified before a person is added to the register. The deadline is April 20.

The Electoral Commission told The National yesterday that “anyone who registered for the independence referendum will remain registered unless they have moved address”. That claim is contradicted by the experiences of Airdrie and Shotts MSP Neil and Highlands MSP Rob Gibson.

Neil said: “I was sent a letter by the joint evaluation board saying they had no proof of my existence at my address where I have lived for 28 years and I had a week to prove my identity.

“I had to send them a copy of my passport with the photograph as proof of my identity and I haven’t heard back from them to say if I’m definitely on the electoral register or eligible to vote in May.

“I find it unbelievable that they had no idea who I was. I wrote back to them explaining that I had lived at that the same address for 28 years and voted in every election since I’ve been there and saying I couldn’t understand why they didn’t know who I was.

“I’ve never had a problem before. I also voted in the referendum and suddenly they’ve decided that I don’t exist.

‘‘If this can happen to me, who knows exactly how many other people have been missed off the register.

“People don’t realise that they have to make sure they are on the electoral register, as you cannot trust the authorities because they appear to be totally incompetent.”

Gibson has vowed to take up the matter with the Electoral Commission after a similar experience. He too was asked for proof identity and given two weeks to provide the information. He told The National: “I was surprised that the Electoral Registration Officer has been unable to cross check my identity. I have signed the application form from our household each year to re-register

“I am concerned that extra checks may deter voters who registered in huge numbers this year from re-registering for the 2015 UK election. Additionally, I am disturbed to see that there seem to be no other cross checks available to the Assessor with my previous records. Surely this new regime introduced by UK electoral law could act to reduce the numbers who register when such time limited instructions are issued?

“In my case I was given two weeks from when the letter was issued to provide from a menu of documentary proof of my identity. The stricture was ‘Failure to provide this evidence by the required date may result in me rejecting your application for registration.’

“The language used in the pro-forma letter was designed by the Electoral Commission. This has produced considerable annoyance among voters due to its threatening tone.

“I will pursue this matter with the Electoral Commission and wish our own Electoral Registration Officers every success in processing the postal vote applications and that they in turn get help from the Electoral Commission which is applying this strict new application process.”

The Electoral Commission said the reason for the changes in voting registration was to “increase security” and give people more control over their vote.

Numerous people have complained to a local councillor insisting they are being blocked from the UK Government’s ‘register to vote’ link online.

Airdrie councillor Michael Coyle said: “Lots of people are going online to register and once they put their details in they are told that they are not eligible to vote. There is mass confusion here and people are very worried they won’t be registered to vote in time. It’s a shambles.”

Jonathon Shafi, a founder of the Radical Independence Campaign(RIC), said: “It is disturbing to hear what seem to be widespread reports of issues arising around voter registration.”

Chair the group’s regional branch in Ayrshire, Heather Anderson, who is currently running a voter participation initiative and has found that there “is a great deal of confusion”. 

Register to vote today: