Scotland politics

Scottish referendum: Police assess postal vote allegations

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Media captionScottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson on the Scotland Decides programme

Police have been asked to examine claims that pro-UK campaigners breached electoral law by counting some postal votes ahead of referendum polling day.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Better Together agents had been "taking tallies" of postal votes at sample openings held in the weeks before the count.

Election rules state the results of these openings must be kept secret.

Police Scotland said it was assessing whether a crime had been committed.

It is understood a number of complaints were made to the Electoral Commission.

The commission does not have the power to investigate criminal allegations, and has made police aware of the concerns.

The allegations surround comments made to BBC Scotland by Ms Davidson about 45 minutes after polls closed in last Thursday's Scottish independence referendum.

Ms Davidson told the Scotland Decides programme: "We have had people at every sample opening around the country over the last few weeks... and we have been incredibly encouraged by the results from that.

"Going into today, going by the postal votes that were cast, our side would have had a lead and I think that we have a confidence, I hope a quiet confidence, that the quiet majority of Scots have spoken today."

'Taking tallies'

She said postal votes were not counted until after the polls closed, but added: "Different local authorities have had openings around the country. It is illegal to discuss that while any ballot is ongoing, so until ten o'clock tonight no one could talk about it.

"But there is people in the room that have been sampling those ballot boxes as they have been opened and they have been taking tallies and the reports have been very positive for us."

The Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 states that those attending the sample openings must not "attempt to ascertain at the proceedings in connection with the receipt of the ballot papers the outcome for which any vote is given in any particular ballot paper or communicate any information with respect thereto obtained at those proceedings".

Anyone convicted of breaching the law can be jailed for up to a year, and/or receive a fine of up to £5,000.

The sample postal vote openings, which were attended by agents from both campaigns ahead of polling day, were held to confirm personal identifiers - the date of birth and signature - on the postal ballots matched those held on official records.

The ballot papers are supposed to be kept face down when postal voting packs are opened so postal ballot agents and observers are unable to see how people have voted.

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Elections Scotland guidance acknowledges that there may be times when the front of the document becomes visible - but emphasises that "it is an offence for anyone attending the opening of postal votes to attempt to ascertain how any vote has been cast or to communicate any such information obtained".

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said: "Any complaints we have received in relation to this matter have been brought to the attention of the Police Service of Scotland."

Police Scotland said the force would assess any complaints to establish whether they warranted further investigation.

The Scottish Conservatives said the party would cooperate if asked to do so.

On Monday, Mary Pitcaithly, the chief counting officer in the referendum, dismissed allegations of vote rigging after a video of alleged wrongdoing at a number of counts across the country was posted online.

More than 70,000 people have signed an online petition demanding "a revote counted by impartial international parties".

In a statement, a spokesman for Ms Pitcaithly said all counts "were properly conducted and scrutinised".

He added: "Each of the episodes in the video can be easily explained. However they are presented as a 'conspiracy' theory.

"It is most frustrating and does not recognise the immense work that so many people put into the planning and delivery of the count."

Ten votes in Glasgow are already being investigated over a separate claim of multiple voting.

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