Thousands of names have disappeared from electoral registers across Scotland. This has prompted fears that people are giving up their right to vote in order to escape poll tax officers. But MPs in the seats showing the largest drops do not appear to be concerned. arguing that the ‘decrease merely reﬂects a more accurate electoral
role than was previously available.
Figures released last week suggest that in Leith. for example. a relatively safe seat held by Ron Brown. over 3600 votes vanished. while Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind‘s constituency of Edinburgh Pentlands suffered a drop of22l6 names against a 3745 majority. But it is in the Labour-held marginal constituencies of Edinburgh Central and Soth that most concern has been expressed over the fact that the decrease on the electoral register is higher than the current majority. This has led some commentators. who believe that the loss ofvoters is a direct effect of poll-tax dodging, to question Labour‘s ability to hold onto these seats come a General Election.
‘The argument that these people are all Labour supporters doesn‘t stand up.‘ claims Alistair Darling. who wrested Edinburgh Central from the Conservatives in 1987 with a majority of 2262 (the decrease in the electoral roll is 2911). ‘Nobody knows who those people would have voted for. What will decide South and Central. Pentlands and West — the marginal seats in Edinburgh — is not missing votes but who actually votes for whom on
Alistair Darling, MP ior Edinburgh Central
the day. But that‘s only halfof it: it‘s certainly my experience canvassing in the city centre that the electoral register has never been accurate.‘
Darling argues that. ironically. the register is now more accurate than it was before the last General Election due to the poll tax. Previously, the names of ‘phantom voters‘ — people who had moved out of the area since the last election — stayed on the register for years. and that in city centre constituencies. the turnover ofstudents. single people and young couples would naturally be higher. With the introduction ofthe poll tax came the financial incentive to ensure that the names of former inhabitants were not included on the current occupier‘s form.
‘The biggest drop occurred in l988,‘ Darling
continues. ‘In the local elections since then, if you were to consider them as a general election, the Labour Party would have held all the seats it currently holds.‘ This may be true. but in 1990, when the draft register showed a decrease of2.2 per cent — some 84.000 people across Scotland — this was certainly enough to worry Labour Central Office. At the same time. 105.527 votes ‘disappeared‘ in London alone, causing the party to launch a massive voter registration drive. When the final register was published a few weeks ago, the names of 29.097 Londoners had reappeared. It would seem that the poll tax has played a part after
‘I think it‘s fair to say there‘s an element ofthat in the overall decline on the electoral register,‘ says Kevin Pringle, the SNP‘s Research Officer. ‘Indeed it‘s one of the tragic consequences of the poll tax that people have felt it necessary to disenfranchise themselves just through financial
Derek Munn, President ofNUS (Scotland) agrees that. regardless of political sympathies. people may have decided to lose their right to vote on account ofthe poll tax. ‘A lot of people see not being registered to vote as a way of increasing their invisibility,‘ he argues. ‘This isn‘t necessarily a political statement; people are genuinely scared because they haven‘t got the money to pay the poll tax. But it‘s playing into the Government's hands to disenfranchise yourself. That's not the
Should the election be held on 9 April it raises the added problem ofstudents losing their votes when they are away for the Easter vacation. To combat this the NUS is currently liaising with electoral registration officers across Scotland to ensure that students will be eligible for postal votes under the ‘temporary absence from work‘ clause. In addition, Munn stresses that it is still not too late to register. and that it has always been possible to discover poll tax non-payers‘ names and addresses from sources other than the electoral register. With the NUS‘s emphasis on urban marginal constituencies, who is to say that. on the day, the student factor will not prove more important than the poll tax disappearances? (Alan Morrison)
I Oxiam Leap Day: Friday 29 Feb sees the climax of Oxfam‘s latest campaign headed by amphibian fundriser. LeapFrog. Hundreds of teams will be competing in leap frog races across the country. with other bizarre bouncing events taking place .on the day. To get into the spirit of the event, hop along to your nearest ()xfam shop and pick up a LeapFrog badge. T-shirt. mug or balloon. or just make a donation. Proceeds from the campaign will go towards the organisation‘s development work
j I Scottish Opera Music Director:
LScottish Opera has appointed
4'l'he l.is12ill-‘ebruary-— 12 March I992
Richard Armstrong as its new music director. succeeding John Mauceri in August 1993. Armstrong. music director of Welsh National Opera from 1973-86. has worked with both the R80 and the SCO. and is conducting the current Scottish Opera production of Britten's Billy Budd.
l Norman MacEwan Award: BBC Radio Scotland journalist Lesley Riddoch has been presented with the 1992 Norman MacEwan Award. which recognises ‘the defence and promotion ofcivil rights in Scotland.‘ Riddoch‘s weekday morning show Speaking ()u! mixes studio debate with public phone-in. and was praised for airing issues particularly relevent to women and minority groups. The Award. run by the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties in association with Stirling District Council. is named after a former chairman of the S(.‘(‘l-.
I Scottish Green Show: A new exhibition highlighting environmental and conservation issues will take place between 5—8 March at Glasgow‘s SECC. The Scottish (irecn Show will also feature companies dealing in environmentally-friendly products. advice and information. and various educational and entertainment
l l l
events. Central feature will be the Tree of Life, a campaign that encourages hundreds ofthousands of individual pledges to protect the planet. to be presented at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil this June. The show will be open 10am-6pm daily. with tickets priced at £3 adult/£1 .50 concessions.
I Women and HIV/AIDS: A one-day conference aimed at informing women about HIV and AIDS will take place on 6 March. marking International Women‘s Day. The conference. organised by Lothian Regional Council‘s Women‘s Unit. takes place in the Regional Chambers. and will cover various topics. including reducing the spread of the disease and caring for someone with HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. A series ofcomplementary workshops will be held at Dalkeith Arts Centre (Mon 2 March). Regal Resource Centre. Bathgate (Tue 3 March) and Wallyl‘ord Community Centre (Wed 4 March). The Women‘s Unit is also accepting applications for grants for lxithian-based groups promoting women‘s interests. Information on this and the conference is available from the Women‘s Unit. 8Johnston Terrace. Edinburgh. EH] 2PW (031 468 3465/7).
EDINBURGH PEACE FESTIVAL
As political boundaries in Eastern Europe continue to shiit and trouble llares once again in the Middle East, Edinburgh prepares to cast aside all notions oi international rivalry with its sixth Peace Festival. The Festival runs 29 Feb—19 Mar and embraces cultural celebrations as well as political issues.
Oiten the two combine, such as with Wed 4 March’s benelit concert at the Queen’s Hall lor the 500 Years oi Resistance Campaign and Material Aid for Cuba. The iormer questions this year’s celebrations over the 500th anniversary ol Columbus's ‘discovery’ at America, in light oi the millions killed by the conquistadores and imported diseases, and the poverty and oppression still suliered by the indigenous people at the American continents.
Another highlight oi the Festival is a United Nations Association conierence on Environment and Development to be held on Sat14 March. Various topics irom global warming to population growth will be discussed and the iindings sent to the Government prior to the UN Summit in June. (Alan Morrison)