Polling station closures flawed

Nine polling stations in the Scottish Borders were put at risk of closure based on outdated council information.

One of the polling stations at risk is Cranshaws in the Lammermuir Community Council area due to a low number of registered voters. But chairman Mark Rowley made a Freedom of Information request for up-to-date information on voter numbers and discovered that the figures have changed.

“Seven of the nine proposed closures no longer have less than 100 electors that was the closure trigger – locally that includes our near neighbours at Abbey St Bathans,” said Mr Rowley.

He also discovered that St Abbs, Longformacus and Allanton polling stations were only just the right side of the 100 electorate figure.

At last month’s independence referendum 107 electors were registered to vote at Cranshaws polling station – up from 93 registered in 2012. At Abbey St Bathans the number of voters has risen from 61 in 2012 to 72 last month.

“If this information hadn’t been obtained SBC would have asked members to take a decision that will permanently affect rural communities on

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significantly outdated information that is over two years old.

“We have also been told by SBC that no rural proofing assessment was undertaken for this policy - for a council officer-led proposal, one that would have ended one of the few locally-delivered services that some small rural communities still have, that is truly shocking.

“We are today calling for SBC to withdraw this proposal. SBC seem to be on the back foot and struggling to defend an ill-thought-out policy as they have already told us they won’t have an officer recommendation for the proposal, but will leave it to elected members.

“Bizarre when it was a policy that was developed by officers under the chief executive!

“Should they decline to withdraw we have asked that SBC make no decision until the up to date figures have been circulated to all impacted communities and SBC Members and they have all had an appropriate opportunity to respond

“It may be that the loss of a polling place may be less of a threat to some communitities than the proposed Berwickshire closures at Cranshaws or Abbey St Bathans or elsewhere. If so, once properly consulted, some venues may wish to accept closure. Those that do not should have this threat lifted from them.

“If SBC still plan to move forward with this misguided policy they should at least withdrawn Abbey St Bathans from the candidate closure list. It now has an electorate higher than the 100 elector level at which they proposed the electoral guillotine should fall and any closure would be doubly unjust.

“As well as showing a growing electoral roll in Berwickshire is shows a greater voter turnout. Post referendum, with everyone discussing where additional powers should lie, it seems preposterous to force small rural communities out of full local engagement with the electoral process.

“In some of the Scottish Borders smallest rural communities almost all locally-delivered services have been lost. Schools, shops, pubs and Kirks have closed. The halls that act as polling places are sometimes the only remaining community space and this proposal threatens their viability further. We don’t have adequate broadband, access to digital radio or mobile coverage. Public transport is a distant memory and almost every service requires significant travel, time and money to access. It is time for SBC to start actively working to make these fragile communities more sustainable - not less. SBC decline to even recognise most of these communities as settlements in their local development plan - no wonder they see so little need to support them.

MSP John Lamont added: “Yet again, smaller communities look set to lose out from the Council’s latest cost cutting exercise. Rural polling stations are a huge help to local residents and closing them will force residents to travel further or use postal votes even if they don’t like doing so.

“To base the decision on the cost per voter seems an absurd method, especially as these communities do not benefit from other council services available in the larger towns and villages. It also completely ignores the travel costs being passed on to the electorate who will have to go miles further just to vote.

“And it seems that councillors were being asked to make a decision based on out-dated information, as in the last few years the electorate has increased significantly.

“I would have hoped that following the excellent turnout at the referendum, the council would have wanted to enhance political engagement, not make it harder for people to vote.”

Mid Berwickshire councillor John Greenwell has made it clear he will be voting against the polling station closures, saying: “At a time when all political parties are asking more of the electorate to come out and vote and exercise their democratic right and choose who they want to govern us, SBC have through their proposed actions put a price on democracy by closing polling stations in more remote locations such as Abbey St Bathens & Cranshaws to save what in the big scheme of things is a very small amount of money, I do hope that common sense will prevail and this proposal is dropped to safe guard the democratic rights of the rural voter.”