(Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill
UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish
Parliament Local Government Committee's Call for Evidence on
The Proportional Representation (Local Government 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 the proposed Proportional Representation Bill,
particularly since it covers issues of great concern to our
members not only in their professional lives but as citizens
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the Scottish Parliament Local Government Committee's call
for evidence on the Proportional Representation (Local Government
Elections) (Scotland) Bill.
The Existing System of Local Government
UNISON Scotland believes that the current electoral
system for local government elections is unsatisfactory.
Under the present First Past the Post (FPTP)
electoral system it is common for the winning candidates to
be elected with support from less than half of those who voted.
We believe that this does little for the spirit of democracy,
and reduces the legitimacy of those elected. For example, in
the 1999 council elections nearly half of Glasgow's 79 councillors
were elected with only minority support.
It is also the case that the results in the
wards do not add up to give each party a fair share of seats
within a council. This is true for all political parties. For
- Labour in Midlothian Council secured 94% of the seats with
only 46% of the vote, whereas the SNP achieved a vote of 31%
but no seats.
- In Angus the SNP acquired 72% of council seats on a vote
of 47%, whilst Labour polled 18% of the vote and only secured
- The Liberal Democrats in East Dunbartonshire Council won
42% of seats on a vote of 27%.
- The Conservatives in Stirling Council achieved 41% of the
seats also on a vote of 27%.
The skewed relationship between votes cast
and seats won means that councils are often dominated by one
party that has secured only a minority of the votes. In the
1999 elections this happened in 12 of the 32 Scottish Councils.
As the Kerley Report concludes, UNISON believes that this type
of dominance by one party - without a majority of votes - creates
fatalism and disillusionment on the part of voters and complacency
on the part of the winning party. UNISON Scotland agrees with
the Kerley Report that this is bad for democracy.
Fatalism and disillusionment with the current
voting system are arguably a cause of poor turnout at local
elections, as many votes do not count in the FPTP system. The
last Scottish local government elections were held on the same
day as the inaugural Scottish Parliament elections which did
result in a turnout of 59.4%. However, previous local election
turnout was poorer:
Turnout in Scottish Local Elections
Unitary Local Authority
Unitary Local Authority
We also believe that the dominance by one party
in a council is not good for local democracy or local decision
making. Decision making should be open to scrutiny, but the
disproportionate distribution of seats in some authorities does
not allow opposition parties or councillors to effectively scrutinise
and contribute to the policy making process.
The perception of staff within councils which
remain under the control of one political party, is that they
are less open to employees, and less prepared to work with staff
and unions in partnership approaches. Our experience of councils
which are made up of a coalition, or where power does change
hands, is that the authority is more prepared to listen to staff
and enter into constructive dialogue.
The Current Bill's Proposals
The Proportional Representation (Local Government
Elections) (Scotland) Bill implements the recommendations of
the Kerley Committee. UNISON Scotland supports the recommendations
made in the Kerley Report and we believe that the implementation
of the proposals set out in the report would improve representation,
enhance democracy and help to revitalise local government.
We agree with the Kerley Report that a reformed
system of electing local councillors should focus on proportionality
and fairness, and should retain the link between councillor
and his/her ward.
We also believe that independent candidates
should have a fair chance in elections, and that the electoral
system should allow for the geographical diversity of Scotland,
taking into account urban conurbation, rural and remote areas.
In addition the electoral system should enable council wards
to match natural communities. It is important that every vote
should count and that local government should be seen to be
responsive, transparent and democratic.
UNISON Scotland notes the rationale in the
Kerley Report, which concludes that the Single Transferable
Vote (STV) system best fits this criteria. We support the implementation
of the Kerley recommendations and believe that this system should
be introduced for local government elections.
The Single Transferable Vote Electoral System
For local government elections UNISON Scotland
believes that proportional representation (PR), and the STV
in particular, produces a result which more fairly represents
the spectrum of opinion within the electorate. It is worthy
of note that the UK is the only European Union member state
not to use a system of PR for local government elections. STV
is used in a variety of public elections in Australia, Ireland,
and in Northern Ireland.
UNISON believes that it is fundamental to UK
elections that those councillors elected represent a specified
group of people. The STV system allows for multimember wards,
and the Kerley Report recommends wards of 3-5 councillors. Where
several councillors represent each ward there is a better chance
that the councillors will also represent a spectrum of opinion,
and that constituents will feel comfortable about contacting
at least one of them. Therefore, it can be argued that multi-member
wards improve the representation of individual constituents.
STV allows for ward sizes to be varied to suit
the needs of both sparsely populated rural areas and the densely
populated urban areas. As noted above Kerley allows for wards
of 3-5 members on average, but where appropriate will have wards
of just 2 members. Given Scotland's diversity between the populous
central belt, and the sparser Borders, and Highlands and Islands,
STV offers appropriate representation to all communities.
The STV proportional system should also address
the poor representation of a number of groups within local authorities,
such as women, minority ethnic, and young people. In multi-member
wards political parties will have to field a team of candidates,
and UNISON believes that parties should be strongly encouraged
to ensure gender balance and support the candidature of minority
ethnic and young candidates.
The use of a proportional electoral system
for the Scottish Parliament has increased the representation
of women, however, it has to be noted that this was achieved
principally by the Labour Party (following pressure from the
trade union movement) implementing the "twinning system".
Given that Westminster recently passed the Sex Discrimination
(Electoral Candidates) Act 2002, UNISON Scotland believes that
political parties have no reason not to address the under representation
of women as elected representatives.
Importantly with STV, it is the voter who chooses
which candidate to vote for, rather than political parties determining
the ranking of their own particular candidates on a ballot paper.
Under the STV system maximum use is made of
all votes cast. Unlike FPTP, where many people may feel that
their votes are wasted where one party dominates in a given
area, surplus votes are transferred to second preferences where
one candidate has more than the minimum number of votes to be
elected, and where candidates with the least support are excluded.
This makes the maximum use of voters' preferences, involving
more voters and avoids voter disillusionment and fatalism. This
makes for better administrations, where people feel their views
have been represented.
Proportional Representation will ensure that
each party, together with independents, will be represented
on each council in fair proportion to the share of 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.
Opponents of PR tend to argue that it results
in power sharing administrations, dilutes a particular party's
manifesto commitments, and gives third parties undue influence.
However, UNISON Scotland disagrees that this is a disadvantage
of PR. The experience of the Scottish Parliament, elected under
a system of PR illustrates that this system of election can
produce good governance, promote social justice, and enhance
scrutiny of decision-making. The electoral system allows for
fair representation of independents, and their contribution
has enabled other legislation to be placed on the statute books,
such as the abolition of poindings and warrant sales.
UNISON believes that PR for local government
elections would improve decision making in councils. PR could
help to develop a more consensual style of politics where elected
representatives truly consider the interests of the community
they represent, rather than political point scoring. A system
based on STV would also help to engage more people - including
greater numbers of women, ethnic minorities and young people
- making a more representative system.
Raising Awareness of Election Processes
UNISON strongly believes that any changes to
the electoral system must be followed up with public awareness
initiatives. It is important that people understand how the
proposed system will work, how to cast their vote and the processes
for counting votes to elect councillors under STV. There is
a need for a voter education programme on local government and
the election system to be used - which is directed at the electorate.
In addition UNISON believes that we need to raise awareness
on local government and electoral processes through citizenship
initiatives in schools and colleges to target children and young
Consultative Process of the Bill
There has been substantial consultation on
the electoral system for local government in Scotland. Prior
to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the McIntosh
Commission reported on the need to reform local government,
proposing systems of PR for elections. The Kerley Committee
was set up by the Scottish Executive charged with building on
the recommendations of McIntosh, and produced its "Report
of the Renewing Local Democracy Working Group" in June
2000. The proposed Bill transposes the Kerley recommendations
on STV into legislation.
However, UNISON believes that it is still essential
that this Bill is subject to the Scottish Parliament's rigorous
consultative processes, with a wide consultation process incorporating
all interested parties.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835