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The Scottish Local Government (Elections) Bill

The UNISON Scotland submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee on their call for views on the Scottish Local Government (Elections) Bill.

March 2009

Scottish Parliament

Local Government and Communities Committee

Call for Views:

The Scottish Local Government (Elections) Bill


UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the call for views from the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee regarding the above legislation.

UNISON is the main local government trade union in Scotland and we also represent the staff involved in administering elections.

Decoupling the Scottish Parliament and Council Elections

UNISON Scotland has a long standing position in favour of decoupling parliamentary and local government elections and we supported a previous Non-Executive Bill tabled by David Mundell MSP and then taken up by Brian Monteith MSP on this issue. Having the local government elections on the same day as the parliamentary elections means that the focus of the elections, both in the media and with political parties, is on the national rather that the local. In the long run this can only damage local government with less scrutiny exercised.

Although supporters of combined elections argue that keeping local government together with higher profile elections a higher turnout can be maintained, this is only hiding the problem of a disengaged local electorate, not solving it. The real solution lies in local politicians that respond to local issues, delivering specific solutions to the specific problems in their community.

Stand alone local elections will allow the focus of the election campaign to centre on local issues, so creating a real debate on local priorities that really matter to people, like housing, planning, licensing, local transport, road and pavement maintenance, litter, and refuse collection.

More empowered, democratic and accountable councils will deliver a more focused local governance, one geared towards local solutions for local problems.


Four Year Cycle for Council Elections

UNISON Scotland supports the position that local government elections should be held on a four year cycle at the mid point of the Scottish Parliament.

We have no general concerns with the process reached to achieve this, i.e. two five year terms until the elections fall into the mid point of the Scottish Parliament. From then on a four year cycle for local government elections would be held.

Post-Election Information

UNISON Scotland supports the proposals for post-election information. We believe they represent a reasonable balance between the legitimate needs of the political parties and administrative effort as well as maintaining voter confidence in the process. However, we would support the further disclosure of information that can readily be provided consistent with voter secrecy and greater consistency across local authorities.

Staffing and Funding Implications

In decoupling local government elections from the Scottish Parliamentary election, UNISON Scotland is aware that this will increase the total costs of each election as set out in the financial memorandum. In addition to the one off costs for each election there will be additional workload placed on the permanent staff. However, as mentioned above, it would provide greater scrutiny on local government issues and we believe this is a price worth paying.

UNISON Scotland would seek assurances that these extra costs come from the Scottish Government and are not taken from local government’s budgets. Local government is under considerable financial strain at present and this is unlikely to get better in the coming years.

Reducing the Voting Age

UNISON Scotland also believes that the age limit for voting and candidates in local government elections should be reduced to 16 years. This Bill would be a good opportunity to introduce this change. However, we understand that this is covered by the franchise exemption in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998.


UNISON Scotland generally supports the provisions within this bill to decouple local government elections from the Scottish Parliamentary elections. We support the local government elections being held on a four year cycle at the mid-point of the Scottish Parliamentary term. UNISON Scotland would like some clarification on the increased costs of separate elections and that this would not come from local government budgets.

UNISON Scotland

18 March 2009



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