Proportional Representation in Local Government
The current system for electing representatives in Scottish local
Government elections is known as First Past the Post. This means
that one candidate is elected for each ward represented in the
council with the winner being the candidate who polls the most
While most Scots view this arrangement as 'normal' it is increasingly
at odds with the rest of the world and the vast majority of Western
democracies are mostly in favour of proportional representation.
Proportional representation systems come in several formats
but they all share two basic characteristics.
First they use multi-member wards where instead of electing
one member of the council in each small ward, PR uses much larger
wards that elects several members at once. Secondly the proportion
of votes received determines the candidates who win seats in these
For example if there is a ten member PR ward in which Labour
candidates win 50 per cent of the vote, they would receive five
of the ten seats. With 30 per cent of the vote the SNP would get
three seats and if a third party received the other 20 per cent
of the vote it would get the remaining two seats.
Two reports were commissioned to look into the best way of introducing
proportional representation into Scotland's local government elections
and they made a number of recommendations regarding the implementation
of a PR system in this country. They are known as the McIntosh
Report and the Kerley Report.
MacIntosh and Kerley
The Report of the Commission on Local Government and the Scottish
Parliament (The McIntosh Report) and the report of the Renewing
Local Democracy Working Group (The Kerley Report) both support
a move towards proportional representation in local government
Both agree the relevant criteria to be used in determining the
system of PR to be adopted should consider the following points:
proportionality; the councillor-ward link; fair provision for
independents; allowances for geographical diversity and a close
fit between council wards and natural communities.
Both recommend that a new electoral system of local government
will require legislation – especially for the Boundary Commission
– a voter education campaign and the development of new administrative
They both support the move towards a single transferable vote
In consultations public response to the Kerley Report was very
positive with the majority of the respondents supporting the recommendations.
Single Transferable Vote
The single transferable vote under the new Local Governance (Scotland)
Bill will use multi-member wards comprising three or four councillors.
Electors will be able to vote for as few or as many candidates
as they wish and rank them in order of preference.
Voters will mark their first choice with a '1' and second choice
with '2' and so on. If there are as many as ten candidates, the
voter can vote for one candidate, or ten, or indeed any number
in between by ranking them in order of preference.
The legislation will then set out a formula that is used to establish
a quota of votes for each ward. The quota is the minimum number
of votes necessary to guarantee election as a councillor in that
All the first choice votes i.e.: those marked with a '1' are
Any candidate who has a number of votes equal to or greater than
the quota is considered elected at this stage.
Once the quota is reached, the first choice votes for the successful
candidate are then transferred to the voter's second choice candidate
at a reduced value, known as the transfer value (formula also
established in legislation).
The process is repeated until the required number of candidates
has been elected.
If at any stage none of the candidates reaches the quota set
for election, the person with the lowest number of votes is then
eliminated. Their second preference votes are then given a transfer
value and added on to the votes of the remaining candidates. This
process continues until a candidate reaches the quota required
for election. This ensures that no votes are wasted.
First past the post (FPTP)
The first past the post format in Scottish Local Government is
distinguished by the fact that each elector is represented by
one, and only one, councillor and each councillor is elected as
the representative of the people in the ward.
As such it perfectly satisfies the criterion of a councillor/
It does not though produce a proportionate result. For example
in the present Midlothian Council Labour won 94% of the seats
on 46% of the vote, while the SNP polled 31% of the vote and won
no seats. This is not an atypical result under the FPTP system,
which tends to reward the largest party with a disproportionate
number of seats at the expense of the second and third choice
The Partnership agreement
The Executive's partnership agreement between Labour and the
Liberal Democrats provides the electorate with a combination of
both parties' manifestos.
Both recognised the need for an elected local government that
is responsive to local people and this means a move towards renewing
local democracy, acting to improve democratic participation and
widening the range of people who become involved in local government.
They aim to achieve this by introducing proportional representation
at the next local government elections.
The move for Labour however is a tactical decision as most of
their members are still in favour of FPTP.
However the Liberals would never have agreed to a partnership
deal without PR and Labour believe a stable
government and the rest of their programme was more important
than FPTP. In any event there is likely to be a majority in parliament
in favour of PR despite Labour's opposition.
This partnership agreement also committed them to STV with three
or four member wards. However the Liberals and most of the other
parties would have preferred larger wards as in essence the smaller
the share of the vote the larger the ward needed to get at least
one candidate elected.
Proportional representation elections will start to take shape
in Scotland under the Local Governance (Scotland) Bill.
A draft bill was first published on September 24, 2002 and on
November 19, 2002 the Executive announced that as well as providing
for the STV to local authority elections, the Bill would also
introduce a number of other issues intended to improve local democracy.
These include an overhaul of councillors' allowances, a salary
and pension scheme and changes to the restrictions on who can
stand for council elections.
A further consultation and revised draft bill was published in
July, 2003 and the Bill should be introduced to Parliament by
the end of 2003. If approved, Royal Assent should be obtained
by Autumn 2004 allowing the Local Government Boundary Commission
for Scotland to begin the review of ward boundaries before the
end of 2004. Work on implementing and introducing pay, pensions,
severance; revised election rules, training for election staff
and voter awareness campaign would be taken forward during the
period from the beginning of 2006 through to the Spring 2007 elections
The consultation period on the revised draft bill will end on
September 30, 2003.
The consulatation paper can be viewed at: www.scotland.gov.uk/consultations/localgov/dlgsc-00.asp
UNISON Scotland carried a motion in February 2001 supporting
the Kerley Report recommendations for PR in Scotland's local government
UNISON also supports multi-member constituencies that retain
the councillor/ community link and so promote democratic accountability.
In addition it was felt that PR would help address equality issues
in relation to the make up of Councils. Under FPTP councils are
likely to remain male dominated and with under representation
of ethnic minorities.
However while PR can contribute towards more accountable and
representative local authorities other Executive measures are
inconsistent with increasing accountability.
The ring fencing of budget allocations and the removal of functions
to quangos are the main examples of this.
Proposals for new quangos for criminal justice and transport
are bound to exacerbate this problem.
A statutory requirement should also be brought in requiring all
public bodies to regularly report and account for all their policy
Increasing the democratic accountability of public services could
play an important role in revitalising public interest in the
democratic process. But it is about more than voting and partnership
has to be structured through collective and individual involvement
at all levels. Providing a real opportunity to influence, not
simply participate, in the decision making process.