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Proportional Representation in Local Government No 66




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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 votes.

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 multi-member wards.

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 in Scotland.

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 arrangements.

They both support the move towards a single transferable vote (STV).

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 ward.

All the first choice votes i.e.: those marked with a '1' are counted first.

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/ community link.

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 parties.

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.

Parliamentary timetable

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 policy

UNISON Scotland carried a motion in February 2001 supporting the Kerley Report recommendations for PR in Scotland's local government elections.

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 decisions.

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.



Further Information

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

Contacts list:

Ahrlene Ferguson- a.ferguson@unison.co.uk

Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572