Local Governance (Scotland) Bill
UNISON Scotland's response to the Draft Local Governance (Scotland)
UNISON Scotland supports the move to introduce
proportional representation and the single transferable vote.
We believe that the new ward system should be
for three to four members. Any higher number would weaken
the ward councillor link.
UNISON Scotland believes that the system of
proportional representation will help address the issues of
gender balance and ethnic minority representation. However,
there is also a duty on political parties to ensure fair representation
amongst their candidates.
While welcoming the move to reduce the age limit
for standing as a councillor from 21 years to 18 years. UNISON
Scotland believes that this new bill should used to reduce
the age limit to 16 years for voting and candidates in local
UNISON Scotland welcomes the proposal to remove
the requirement for council employees to resign on nomination
as a candidate. We also believe that elected members should
be able to retain their employment with the same local authority
they represent, with appropriate safeguards to prevent conflicts
of interest arising.
The rule preventing former councillors from
seeking employment with the same council within a year of
leaving office should also be abolished.
UNISON Scotland supports fairer provisions for
the remuneration of councillors including access to the Local
Government Pension Scheme. This should include severance payments
on the same basis as applies to members of the UK and Scottish
We would urge the adoption of alternative voting methods which
would also allow local elections to be held on a different day
to parliamentary elections.
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
over 145,000 members working in the public sector. We are the
largest trade union in local government, with over 98,000 members
working in Scottish Local Government. UNISON welcomes the opportunity
to comment on draft Local Governance (Scotland) Bill since it
covers issues of great concern to our members not only in their
professional lives but as citizens too.
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the consultation on the Draft Local Governance (Scotland) Bill.
UNISON Scotland believes that the current electoral
system for local government elections is unsatisfactory believing
that it does little for the spirit of democracy and reduces the
legitimacy of those elected. The skewed relationship between votes
cast and seats won means that councils are often dominated by
one party that have secured only a minority of the votes. UNISON
believes that this creates fatalism and disillusionment on the
part of voters and complacency on the part of the winning party,
making this system bad for democracy.
UNISON Scotland therefore welcomes this opportunity
to contribute to the consultation on the draft Local Governance
(Scotland) Bill and generally supports the main thrust of the
Bill, which is, to introduce proportional representation in the
form of the single transferable vote to local government elections.
The Electoral System for Local Government Elections
For local government elections, UNISON Scotland
believes that proportional representation (PR) and the single
transferable vote (STV), in particular, would produce a result
which more fairly represents the spectrum of opinion within the
electorate. Proportional representation will ensure that each
party, together with independents will be represented on each
council in fairer proportion to the share of the votes received.
This should end the council domination by single parties with
minority support, and ensure that all council decisions are adequately
discussed and scrutinised by all councillors. UNISON Scotland
believes that a system, which is based on proportionality, will
create better government, be more open to council employees and
offer more partnership working opportunities between employer,
unions and staff.
UNISON Scotland also believes that PR will improve
decision making in councils, will help develop a more consensual
style of politics where elected representatives truly consider
the interests of the community they represent and will also help
engage more people.
UNISON Scotland therefore fully supports the view
that proportional representation should be introduced as soon
as possible and that STV should be used as the new electoral system
for Local Government elections. We consider this to be a fair
and proportional system where every vote will count.
UNISON Scotland further supports the introduction
of three or four member wards. The larger member wards will still
be able to maintain the ward-councillor links, which are crucial
to ensuring that individual councillors remain accountable to
their local communities. More councillors will also provide a
broader spectrum of opinion and constituents will feel comfortable
about contacting at least one of them. If ward sizes were any
larger than four members, the ward member link would be at best
UNISON SCOTLAND firmly believes that all electoral
systems should be fair, open and democratic and encourage participation
from groups which are currently under-represented - women, people
with disabilities, people from ethnic minorities, lesbians and
gay men and younger people. Whilst there is no explicit provision
in the bill for an equal number of women and men candidates or
for quotas on ethnic minority candidates, UNISON Scotland feels
that the introduction of the proportional representation system
will naturally assist in addressing these issues.
UNISON believes that all political parties should
move towards a 50:50 gender split for candidates and ensure better
representation of other under represented groups. We would not
oppose a statutory provision to this effect. However, we believe
that such a provision would be open to challenge under the European
Convention on Human Rights.
Age Limit for Local Government Candidates
UNISON Scotland supports any move which encourages participation
from young people in the electoral process and while encouraged
by the move to reduce the age limit for local government candidates
from 21 years to 18, UNISON Scotland believes that the age limit
should be reduced even further to 16 years. Whilst we recognise
that the Electoral Commission is consulting on lowing the voting
age, we believe that this is an opportunity for Scotland to lead
the way by reducing the age for voting and candidates.
Young people in Scotland can marry at the age of
16, be called up to the armed forces, pay tax and National Insurance.
We believe that age discrimination is not only patronising, but
also serves to alienate young people from society. This can be
clearly seen in the rapid and disturbing growth of young people's
disengagement from the electoral and political system.
Restrictions on standing for local Government
UNISON Scotland supports any move that enhances
the individual's opportunity to participate in and influence the
It is supportive of the proposal to reduce the restrictions
on local government employees allowing them to stand as candidates
in local authority elections.
Requirement to resign on nomination
UNISON Scotland warmly welcomes the move to remove
the requirement for council employees to resign on nomination
as a candidate. As local authorities are often the largest employers
in their locality, in our view these restrictions unfairly impact
on an unnecessarily large number of people who have useful local
experience that would serve their constituents and communities
well in elected office.
UNISON Scotland believes that as few people as possible
should be restricted from serving as a local councillor and that
proper consideration is given to other ways to prevent conflicts
of interest arising. For example, the increasing use of scrutiny
committees by Scottish local authorities provides a good mechanism
for policing potential conflicts and the new requirements on declaration
of councillors' interests will provide openness and transparency
on areas where conflicts could arise.
Employees and elected members
UNISON Scotland believes that there should be more
extensive reform of the rules preventing serving councillors being
employees of the same council. We
are of the view that elected members should be able to retain
their employment with the same local authority they represent,
again with appropriate safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest
arising. This is because, as stated above, local authorities are
sometimes the largest employer in their locality, particularly
in rural areas. Removing the bar on being employed by the same
authority would remove a barrier to elected office that discourages
some people and help make councils more representative of the
people they serve - both stated objectives of the Executive. If
private contractors working for a local authority can be councillors
we can see no reason for discriminating against directly employed
For the same reasons, we are of the opinion that
the rule preventing former councillors from seeking employment
with the same council within a year of leaving office should be
abolished. Provided, again, that appropriate mechanisms for avoiding
conflicts of interest and possible political bias are put in place
e.g. staff codes of conduct. Local authorities would also need
to ensure that they have effective and transparent recruitment
and selection procedures that respect equal opportunities. However,
the current one-year bar neither prevents conflicts of interest
arising nor removes political bias and it seems to us to be merely
a restriction for the sake of appearances.
Politically restricted posts
The differing restrictions on political activity
that currently apply are unfair and confusing. As a result of
re-organisation of services, we have members who have had their
previously unrestricted employment transferred to another public
body which then interprets the rules in a more rigid way. The
employees then find themselves politically restricted, even though
their post is substantially the same as it was before.
We believe that applying political restrictions
based on job content to local government employees alone would
be particularly unfair, given that local government functions
are being transferred to other public, private and voluntary sector
bodies and there is now greater cross-body working on the provision
of public services. Both these factors mean those employees of
the NHS, the private and voluntary sectors are doing jobs that
are very similar to those which attract restrictions in the local
government. Therefore, we are firmly of the opinion that the same
restrictions should apply across all public sector bodies, provided
that the rules are accompanied by clear guidance on their interpretation
and take a de minimis approach towards restricting individual's
rights to participate in democratic political activity.
Remuneration for councillors
UNISON Scotland supports fairer provisions for the
remuneration of councillors including access to the Local Government
Pension Scheme. This should include severance payments on the
same basis as applies to members of the UK and Scottish parliaments.
UNISON Scotland would support other changes to the
voting system to make it easier for members of the public to participate
in elections. We would commend the report of the Independent Commission
on Alternative Voting Methods that took a detailed look at the
UNISON Scotland has previously argued that local
government elections should not be held on the same day as Scottish
Parliament elections. If greater use of alternative voting methods
including postal voting were adopted, the administrative objections
to different voting days would largely be overcome.
UNISON Scotland supports the main thrust of the
draft Local Governance (Scotland) Bill and the move to introduce
proportional representation. We should take this opportunity to
revitalise democratic accountability in Scottish local government.
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835