UNISON Scotland believes that any changes to the Scottish Parliament
should evolve through experience of the Parliament in consultation
with the people of Scotland. Change should not come as a by-product
of changes to representation at Westminster.
Clearly there are many resources required for a Parliament, but
that of elected, properly remunerated, full-time MSPs, who have
a code of conduct and register of interests is essential.
This submission looks at key areas in the current debate over the
size of the Scottish Parliament, and concludes that:
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Scotland
Office's consultation on the size of the Scottish Parliament.
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 140,000
people working in the public sector. UNISON has always been a major
supporter of the Scottish Parliament and played a significant part
in the campaign for its establishment.
We were eager to ensure that the Scottish Parliament marked a new
era in politics in Scotland. We believed that devolution and the
establishment of the Parliament should:
In order to achieve and sustain these three ambitions, it is necessary
to have a Parliament fully equipped and resourced to carry out its
functions effectively, efficiently and transparently.
Since the advent of devolution UNISON has embraced the changes
and new opportunities presented through working with the Scottish
Parliament, its Committees, MSPS and the Scottish Executive. This
has been a positive experience for our members. Through consultations,
dialogue and discourse with the devolved institutions, UNISON is
able to input into policy making to the benefit of our members and
to the public sector in Scotland. We very much appreciate these
UNISON welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scotland Office's
consultation on the size of the Scottish Parliament.
- What would be the consequence of the reduction required by
the Scotland Act on the operation of the Scottish Parliament,
and in particular on the Committee system, the workload of MSPs,
the service provided to constituents and the role of members elected
from the list system?
The Scottish Constitutional Convention
The current system of the Scottish Parliament was designed by
the Scottish Constitutional Convention. When established in 1988
the Convention was the most broadly representative body in Scotland.
UNISON, along with the Scottish Trade Union Congress and other
trade unions, participated in the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament was based on the
conclusions of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and is the
settled will of the people of Scotland.
UNISON supported the mechanisms devised by the Convention for
the Parliament to ensure that its membership reflected:
"the regional diversity of its communities; one in which
men and women are fairly represented in numbers broadly proportionate
to their shares of the populations and one which actively encourages
the participation and involvement of all groups including ethnic
minority groups in its consultative processes".
(Scotland's Parliament. Scotland's Right. Scottish Constitutional
The Scottish Consultative Convention reported in 1995, following
many years of deliberation, with the design of a Parliament of
129 members, consisting of constituency and list MSPs, as was
adopted by the Scotland Act 1998.
The Convention did allow for reviews of this system. It stated:
"The electoral system for Scotland's Parliament must
have stability but it will, of course, be dependent on boundaries
established for Westminster and European Parliaments. These may
be subject to alteration outwith the control of Scotland's Parliament
and it will therefore be necessary to ensure that separate boundary
reviews for the Parliament can be carried through with the purpose
of maintaining the size of the Parliament and the integrity of
the corrective effect of the additional members…"
"…The system which the Convention has devised is the
outcome of long and detailed discussions, and is underpinned by
fundamental principles including proportionality and the opportunity
for equal representation. It should not be easily challenged or
changed without careful and democratic scrutiny".
UNISON believes that these views of the Convention should be
considered now, and that the size and systems of the Scottish
Parliament should not be easily changed as a by-product of the
Boundary Commission's review of Westminster constituencies. Our
view is that this is clearly against the spirit and intentions
of all signatories of the Convention.
The question of Scottish representation at Westminster and the
most effective form for the Scottish Parliament are totally separate
issues, and should be treated as such.
We firmly believe that change should come through the experience
of the Parliament in consultation with the people of Scotland,
not due to any linkage to the Scotland Act from Westminster. Whilst
we welcome the current consultation from the Scotland Office,
it is of concern to UNISON that it will be determined in Westminster,
rather than in Scotland.
In the interests of democracy and transparency, there should
be a wider consultation, encouraging public debate, both inside
and outside of the Scottish Parliament, taking into account the
views of the people of Scotland, before drastic changes are made
to the Parliament.
The Scottish Parliament is at a very early stage in its existence.
In just under three years of the Parliament we have witnessed
it grow in stature and maturity. The Parliament should have the
opportunity to continue to develop its operations, giving priority
to the needs of the people of Scotland, rather than the intricacies
of structures of government. UNISON believes that it is premature
to consider change so soon in its lifetime.
UNISON believes a reduction in the size of the Scottish Parliament
would fundamentally alter the principles on which the Scottish
Parliament was established and operates.
A Unicameral Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is unicameral, unlike Westminster it
only has a single legislative chamber. It is crucial that the
Parliament is able to carry out its functions effectively and
competently, with the proper checks and balances, as immense powers
rest with one single institution. A reduction in the number of
MSPs clearly weakens the effectiveness of the Parliament's ability
to function competently, and to scrutinise legislation thoroughly.
Reduction in the overall Parliament size would undermine the
committee structure and other accessibility mechanisms. Since
the establishment of the Parliament UNISON, along with other organisations,
community groups and individuals, has given a range of written
responses to Scottish Executive, Committees, and private member
consultations. We have responded to consultations on a whole host
of issues that impact on our members, from the Local Government
Bill, and Managing Change in the Water Industry, to Ethical Standards
in Public Life and the SQA Bill.
In addition to written responses UNISON has given many oral presentations
to the Committees in their investigations. We have participated
in meetings with Executive Ministers, cross-party groups and individual
UNISON has welcomed the opportunity to engage directly with the
Scottish Parliament, the Committees, the Executive and individual
MSPs. We believe that this direct contact has been beneficial
in putting forward our members' views and interests in a whole
range of issues. However, this discourse, a lynchpin for democracy,
will be severely restricted in the event of a reduced Parliament.
The Committees are the democratic backbone of the Parliament.
Scottish Parliament Committees combine the role of the Select
and Standing Committees of the House of Commons. They have much
stronger pre-legislative functions than Westminster Committees:
they carry out investigations, call on outside opinion and expertise
at every stage of a Bill's passage, and have scrutiny and amending
functions. The Committees also monitor, scrutinise and report
on the Executive's activities.
There are eight statutory Committees in the Parliament, and the
Standing Orders of Scottish Parliament require Committees to reflect
the political balance of the chamber.
The ability of the eighteen Committees to allocate time to investigatory
work or to hearing evidence, such as that given by organisations
like UNISON, will be severely restricted if the number of MSPs
is reduced. MSPs on average serve on one or two Committees. Under
any reduction in MSP numbers either the number of MSPs per committee
will be reduced, the MSPs will be expected to serve on more committees,
or the number of Committees will be cut. Reduced numbers of MSPs
also presents difficulties when ensuring that the composition
of Committees reflects the political balance of the chamber, threatening
their balance, number and effectiveness
All of these scenarios would reduce the democratic nature of
the committee structure, disrupting the balance between political
parties on each committee, giving MSPs less time to do more work,
or cutting the number of elected representatives debating new
laws. A reduced number of Committees means that certain subjects
will become marginalised as the Committee structure becomes forced
to focus on the core functions of government.
UNISON believes that this will mean that organisations such as
our own trade union would find opportunities for presenting our
views and representing our membership severely restricted, leading
to a democratic deficit.
UNISON notes that MSPs are currently involved in the running
of the Scottish Parliament. MSPs sit on the Parliamentary Bureau
which does the timetabling of business, and on the Corporate Body
of the Parliament. Any reduction in MSP numbers would clearly
impact on the management of the Parliament.
The adoption of equality-proofing for legislation, the establishment
of the Equal Opportunities Committee and the creation of the Equalities
Unit at the Parliament were welcome steps in ensuring that the
Consultative Steering Group principle of promoting equal opportunities
is upheld. However, UNISON fears that these positive qualities
of the Scottish Parliament would be put in jeopardy should the
number of MSPs be reduced. With fewer MSPs to scrutinise legislation
equality proofing could easily be overlooked.
Family Friendly Working
UNISON welcomed the more family friendly meeting hours of the
parliament as a good step forward from the restrictive practices
of Westminster. There is no sign that the work load of the Scottish
Parliament will reduce even if its membership does, therefore,
we can deduce that MSPs will be expected to work longer hours
to cope with the additional work.
The reduction in the overall size of the Parliament would impact
on the ability to promote the adoption of women candidates, and
to encourage the involvement of other under-represented groups.
The 1999 Scottish Parliament elections were successful in returning
37% of female MSPs, making Scotland one of the most gender balanced
parliaments in Europe and the world. The fact that this was a
new parliament gave the ideal opportunity to promote women candidates,
and to its credit the Scottish Labour Party adopted the "twinning
system" so as half of the Labour group is female.
UNISON believes that women's involvement in the Scottish Parliament
is important, not just because we are committed to equality, but
because we feel that women have made a difference to legislation
and to the ethos of the Parliament. For example, in legislation
the Scottish Parliament has supported the abolition of poindings
and warrant sales, we have a National Strategy for Domestic Violence,
a focus on improving childcare, and in tackling poverty, all issues
which are important to women. A representative Parliament can
address issues which impact on a wider range of people.
The momentum of a gender balanced parliament would be put in
jeopardy by any moves to reduce the number of MSPs. Research by
the Equal Opportunities Commission has demonstrated that if we
are to improve women's representation then special measures are
required. The UK Government's current amendment to the Sex Discrimination
Act, supports this view. The disappearance of places in the Scottish
Parliament without mechanisms of support for existing and potential
female MSPs could see the 37% of female MSPs reduce in proportion,
rather than move towards the 50% mark.
In 1999 no minority ethnic candidate was successfully returned
to the Parliament. UNISON is concerned that the opportunities
for encouraging a diverse and representative Parliament will further
diminish with a cut in MSP numbers.
Representation of Constituents.
MSPs who represent fewer constituents are clearly going to be
able to represent constituents more effectively than in larger
constituencies. This would appear to be true for both MSPs with
constituencies, and list MSPs from larger multi-member constituencies.
With a potentially increased workload in the Parliament and in
Committees, in addition to the increase in the number of constituents
to represent, there are clearly issues of accessibility, ability
to carry out casework, and represent members in a reduced sized
Currently MSPs and Parliamentary Committees are able to propose
Bills for legislation separately from the Executive. This has
proved an invaluable route to get important laws onto the statute
book. UNISON notes that important legislation that does make a
difference to working people in Scotland. The abolition of Poindings
and Warrants Sales, and the Protection from Abuse Act, are both
pieces of legislation which benefit UNISON members but did not
originate from the Scottish Executive. UNISON is concerned that
an increased workload for MSPs and Committees due to a reduction
in the size of the Scottish Parliament will severely restrict
the ability of individual MSPs and Committees to initiate such
legislation in the future.
- What practical effect and issues would arise in their relationship
as constituency representatives between MPs, MSPs and councillors
if the present number of MSPs were to be retained and non-coterminous
boundaries between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament constituencies
created, and how could any difficulties be overcome?
UNISON recognises that coterminosity of Scottish Parliament and
Westminster boundaries was helpful in the early stages of the
Parliament. However, we believe that this is not an argument to
support substantial reduction in the size of the Parliament.
It is nothing new to have non-coterminous constituency boundaries.
For example some Westminster constituency boundaries currently
cut through local authority boundaries. MPs and local councils
appear to cope with non-coterminous boundaries in their day to
Members of the European Parliament currently represent a geographical
area that covers the whole of Scotland, taking in the full range
of Westminster, local authority and Scottish Parliamentary constituencies.
UNISON is unaware of any difficulties expressed by MEPs because
they cover this range.
The constituencies of the new Greater London Assembly (GLA) are
organised along London Borough boundaries. The 14 constituencies
consist of either two or three London Boroughs. Following the
last boundary review in London (1995) there are now a number of
Westminster Parliamentary constituencies that cross Borough boundaries,
and Parliamentary constituencies that cross both Borough and GLA
constituency boundaries. This supports the premise that it is
possible to have non-coterminous boundaries.
Orkney and Shetland, having separate Scottish Parliament Constituencies
and a shared Westminster seat, already have Westminster and Scottish
Parliament Constituency boundaries that are non-coterminous.
Whatever decision is taken following this consultation it is
the case that boundaries have to be non-coterminous for a transitional
period. In 2003 the Scottish Parliament elections will be held
with the 73 constituencies and 56 list members, and the next General
Election (2005/06) will be held with the 59 proposed Westminster
- What are the implications where shared constituency boundaries
are not in place for electoral administrators and local authorities
in relation to the registration of voters and the conduct of elections,
and what would need to be done to ensure the effective and efficient
running of the democratic process?
UNISON believes that it is possible to develop electoral systems
and processes that cope with the existence of shared constituency
boundaries. As noted above, there is precedence for non-coterminous
boundaries in other elections. Pilot projects are already in existence
on new ways to vote, such as electronic voting, or voting in supermarkets,
etc. At the last general election there were facilities for anyone
to vote by post, demonstrating how our electoral processes can
be adapted to cope with new demands. The fact that the electoral
system would need to change, should not be a reason for reducing
the number of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.
- The implications for the structure and operation of political
parties if boundaries cease to be coterminous, and on how any
difficulties would be overcome.
UNISON does not believe that any potential difficulties for political
parties in adapting to boundaries that are non-coterminous should
be a strong argument for reducing the number of MSPs.
Political parties have in the recent past demonstrated an ability
to work together and adapt to a range of political and electoral
situations. In the past few years political parties in Scotland
have worked on:
Three independent MSPs were able to compete with the four major
parties to achieve election to the Scottish Parliament through the
list system, on personal votes or as members of small parties. Fewer
MSPs would reduce the opportunities for minority representation.
Very recently there have been soundings on the viability of state
funding of political parties. Should this idea be progressed, political
parties would have more secure resources to cope with campaigning
and working in coterminous constituency boundaries.
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament has made a difference
to the lives of ordinary working people in Scotland. It has brought
decision making closer to the people.
UNISON strongly believes that the Scottish Parliament should be
given more time and stability to develop and evolve in its current
form so as it is given the opportunity to deliver. Any changes at
this stage to the size - and so the structures - of the Parliament
will cause massive upheaval, an unwanted distraction, and will be
a destabilising force on the devolved institutions.
Change for the Scottish Parliament, if and when necessary, should
come about after in-depth consultation with the people of Scotland,
and not as a result of an unfortunate linkage of Scottish Parliament
constituencies to Westminster constituencies.