Memorandum submitted by the Convention
of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
1. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
(COSLA) is the national voice of local government in Scotland.
Its high priority work areas reflect its commitment to promote
the position of local government as the legitimate tier of government
closest to the people of Scotland. COSLA takes the lead in shaping
the future of local government and ensuring that local Councils
remain at the heart of public service delivery. Thirty one of
Scotland's 32 councils are members of COSLA.
2. COSLA welcomes the invitation to present
written evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee's inquiry into
Coincidence of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in Scotland
and the Consequence of Change. This submission expands on the
initial brief response submitted on 17 October and deals in some
more detail with the two key questions being considered by the
differential between constituency
boundaries involving the Scottish and UK Parliaments; and
implications for turnout at elections
and clarity for the electorate of there being four separate voting
systems in Scotland.
3. The Committee's inquiry is considering
the implications of reducing the number of Scottish constituencies
at Westminster from 72 to 59 whilst not reducing the number of
MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. COSLA has not formally discussed
the proposal to reduce the number of Scottish Westminster constituencies
or to amend the Scotland Act to retain the current 129 MSPs.
4. COSLA was a leading member of the Scottish
Constitutional Convention and played a prominent role in drawing
up the Convention's blueprint for a Scottish Parliament, including
the proposal to have 129 MSPs. COSLA sees no compelling reason
to reduce the number of MSPs.
5. The Government's decision to leave the
size of the Scottish Parliament unchanged whilst supporting the
reduction in the number of Westminster MPs will remove the co-terminosity
of constituency boundaries for the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments.
However, the principle of retaining co-terminosity of boundaries
for the two Parliaments has already been breached in the Scotland
Act in two respects. The Act split the Orkney and Shetland Westminster
constituency into two separate Scottish Parliament constituenciesOrkney
and Shetlandand it created 56 MSPs representing eight regional
6. The creation of 59 Westminster constituencies
which do not have co-terminous boundaries with 73 Scottish Parliament
constituencies is likely to cause confusion among constituents
who will be in different constituencies. However the lack of co-terminous
Parliamentary boundaries will have little impact from a local
authority perspective. Most councils already have to work in partnership
with a large number of organisations or representatives covering
a myriad of different boundaries. Councils have developed effective
working arrangements for dealing with elected representatives
at local, Scottish, Westminster and European level whose constituencies
are not co-terminous. For example, East Lothian Council has to
work with two Westminster MPs (East Lothian and East Edinburgh
& Musselburgh), two MSPs (East Lothian and East Edinburgh
& Musselburgh), seven MSPs from the South of Scotland list
and, potentially, eight MEPs from the Scotland Euro constituency.
7. The proposal to reduce the number of
Westminster constituencies from 72 to 59 will rectify some obvious
anomalies with regards to existing constituency boundaries. For
example, by bringing Musselburgh into the East Lothian constituency
it will make the Westminster boundary co-terminous with the local
authority boundary. However, it will create another set of anomalies
such as the proposed Peebles, Clydesdale and Annandale constituency
which will spread over three local authoritiesScottish
Borders, South Lanarkshire and Dumfries & Galloway. The MP
for this constituency will have to develop working relationships
with three councils and these three councils will have to "compete"
with each other for the MPs attention and support. However, this
problem arises not because of the lack of co-terminosity between
Westminster and Scottish Parliament constituencies but because
of the way that constituency boundaries cut across local authority
8. As the Committee will be aware, the vast
majority of MPs and constituency MSPs have developed very good
day-to-day working relationships which mean that they follow clear
guidelines about how to take up constituency cases and local issues.
This assists councils that are asked to deal with constituents'
cases and queries about local issues. There is some anecdotal
evidence that councils have greater problems in relation to list
MSPs taking up constituents' cases and local issues which are
also being taken up by constituency MSPs thereby increasing the
workload of council officers.
9. COSLA has consulted its member authorities
on several occasions on the proposal to replace the First Past
the Post electoral system for local government elections with
another system. COSLA's view is that debate on electoral systems
is a diversion from action on the key issues facing Scottish local
government, including local government's role, status and credibility;
its resourcing; and, constitutional issues impacting on its relationship
with the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament.
10. COSLA acknowledges that there is a committed
minority view within and among member councils which supports
change with a range of electoral systems being preferred to First
Past the Post, including the Alternative Vote (AV), variations
on AV, and the Single Transferable Vote (STV). However, the view
of the majority of COSLA's member councils is that there should
be no change to the status quo. The First Past The Post system
provides for strong political leadership of a Council with a clear
mandate to carry through the programme of measures put to the
electorate. It also provides a clear member-ward link and gives
a fair opportunity for independent councillors to be elected.
11. COSLA's position on STV and views on
the practical implementation of STV submitted to the Scottish
Executive's consultation on the draft Local Governance Bill (September
2003) are attached as an annex to this submission.
12. With regards to the impact that having
four separate voting systems in Scotland will have on turnout
at elections COSLA would point out that the experience from the
two Scottish Parliament elections, which were held on the same
day as local government elections would suggest that the electorate
is can be turned off by having to use different voting systems.
The higher number of spoilt ballot papers for in the List vote
for the Scottish Parliament suggests a certain amount of voter
13. COSLA would suggest that in a combined
Local Government/Scottish Parliament election where an STV voting
system has been introduced for the local government election there
is undoubtedly scope for voter confusion and an increased number
of spoilt ballot papers. Uniquely in any democratic system, voters
would be expected to cast their votes in three different waysusing
a cross for a candidate in one ballot paper, choosing between
parties in another ballot paper, and listing candidates from the
same and different parties in numerical order of preference in
the third ballot paper.
14. COSLA's response to the draft Local
Governance Bill consultation paper strongly supports the view
that an extensive information and education campaign would be
required to explain to the electorate the complexities of conducting
elections and counts using three voting systems.
15. The Scottish Executive's proposal to
change the electoral system for local government elections will
provide Scottish electors with four different electoral systems
for four tiers of government. COSLA notes that a case could be
made for some form of review of all electoral systems used for
electing representatie to the different levels of government in
EXTRACT FROM COSLA'S RESPONSE TO THE DRAFT
LOCAL GOVERNANCE (SCOTLAND) BILL CONSULTATION (SEPTEMBER 2003)
1. CHANGING THE
1.1 In response to previous consultation
exercises which have proposed changing the electoral system for
Local Government elections COSLA has consistently made the case
that debate is a diversion from action on the key issues facing
Scottish local government, including local government's role,
status and credibility; its resourcing; and, constitutional issues
impacting on its relationship with the Scottish Executive and
the Scottish Parliament. COSLA's view was, and remains, that the
case for change has not been made.
1.2 COSLA has highlighted three crucial
factors which should be taken into account when considering the
electoral system for local government elections:
the maintenance of the member-ward
the straightforward election of a
community representative is more important than focusing on achieving
proportionality at council level in terms of votes cast across
the Council area; and
any electoral system must be able
to accommodate the election of independent councillors.
1.3 COSLA acknowledges that there is a committed
minority view within and among member councils which supports
change with a range of electoral systems being preferred to First
Past the Post, including the Alternative Vote (AV) and the Single
Transferable Vote (STV).
1.4 However, the view of the majority of
COSLA's member councils is that there should be no change to the
status quo. The First Past The Post system provides for strong
political leadership of a Council with a clear mandate to carry
through the programme of measures put to the electorate. It also
provides a clear member-ward link and gives a fair opportunity
for independent councillors to be elected.
1.5 COSLA feels that undue account has been
taken of issues of proportionality in the decision to adopt the
STV system of proportional representation. The other criteria
identified by the McIntosh Commission, with which COSLA was in
agreement, appear to have been downgraded and, in the case of
the criteria regarding fair provision for independents, bypassed.
McIntosh clearly recognised that large areas of Scotland are represented
in local government primarily by independent councillors, and
suggested that allowance for geographical diversity be considered.
COSLA urges the Executive to reconsider the emphasis placed on
the issue of proportionality, and to give an equal prominence
to all the criteria identified by the McIntosh Commission, in
particular the maintenance of the member/ward link, the geographical
diversity of Scotland, and the need to accommodate the election
1.6 COSLA's rural and islands authorities
have consistently opposed the introduction of proportional representation,
and in particular STV, for council elections, largely on the grounds
that there has never been a tradition of party political representation
in these areas, and that the councillor/ward link which is highly
cherished would be diminished. The view of these Councils is that
STV would not encourage members of the public to seek election
to the Council, since it requires candidates to campaign over
a wider area with additional expense, and inevitably reduces the
individual councillor/ward link. There is less likely to be interest
from the public in representing large areas which do not correspond
to their natural communities, especially in rural and islands
1.7 Another concern identified by COSLA's
members, in particular though not exclusively by rural and islands
councils, is the difficulty in ensuring that the larger wards,
which will be required to accommodate three or four members under
the STV system proposed in the draft Bill, correspond to natural
1.8 The proposal to specify that the STV
system should be based on three or four member wards appears to
satisfy neither the supporters nor the opponents of proportional
representation. The smaller the number of councillors elected
per ward under STV the less truly proportional the result will
be. However, prescribing a strict limit on the number of councillors
per ward reduces the Local Government Boundary Commission's ability
to make the new Council wards co-terminus with natural communities.
The geography of rural and islands councils means that some of
the three or four member wards which would emerge would be extremely
large in area. This issue is most severe in the Highland Council
area where even single member wards are extremely large in area.
2. VIEWS ABOUT
2.1 There are substantial concerns about
the practical implications of introducing STV for council elections,
which will need to be resolved prior to the introduction of the
new voting system. These concerns raise the question of the desirability
of the continued combination of the Local Government and Scottish
Parliament elections being held on the same day.
2.2 There are major concerns regarding the
complexities of conducting elections and counts in a combined
Local Government/Scottish Parliament election where three different
voting systems will be usedFirst Past the Post, List System
and STV, the last of which is totally unknown in Scotland. These
concerns would be multiplied if the Electoral Commission's proposal
to introduce all-postal voting for council elections is introduced
since there is great potential for confusion and uncertainty in
introducing two major changes in electoral practice at the same
2.3 The change to the STV system will require
significant changes to the current organisation of local elections,
and the count itself will be very complex. The Executive will
have to undertake to commit resources to training for returning
officers and election staff in the practicalities of the conduct
of the election and the count.
2.4 Similarly there will also need to be
a commitment to fund and undertake a substantial voter awareness
campaign to explain the complexities of STV and the Droop quota
2.5 STV is a time consuming process which
will increase the time required to conduct counts. In Northern
Ireland it can take approximately one and a half days to complete
the counting process for a full Council election with 30 vacancies
to be filled. For example, a recent by-election in Newry in Northern
Ireland took over five hours to complete with only 6,000 votes.
2.6 It would be impossible to have a manual
count for the two Scottish Parliament ballot papers on the night
of the election and then proceed to an STV count the next morning.
If STV is introduced and there continue to be combined polls with
manual counts there will be no prospect of all the processes being
finalised the day after the poll. There would have to be a reasonable
gap between the Parliament and Council elections with the latter
starting at the earliest on the Saturday after the day of poll.
It should be borne in mind that elections normally take place
on the Thursday prior to a Bank Holiday and this means that it
will be even more difficult and expensive to recruit staff to
work on the count over the weekend.
2.7 One specific issue which will need to
be considered is the possible implications for voters with disabilities.
Recently, considerable effort and expense has been invested in
helping voters with disabilities cast their votes as independently
as possible. A voting template was introduced to every polling
station to allow blind or illiterate voters to register their
votes by themselves. It will not be possible to use the template
in an STV election.
2.8 Finally, another practical issue which
needs to be considered is the level of election expenses allowable
to candidates in multi-member wards.