Scottish Green 2021 manifesto launch: what have the party pledged on improving democracy?

Image by Michaela Wenzler from Pixabay

Scottish Green Co-Leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater launched the party’s 2021 election manifesto today (Wednesday 14 April). The manifesto, entitled Our Common Future, is largely what was expected from the Scottish Green party: environmental commitments, a restructuring of the economy and a commitment to Scottish independence.

In 2016 the party won six MSPs (now down to five due to the resignation of Andy Wightman) and hope to win even more in May. Polling suggests they could do just that and win a record share of MSPs at Holyrood.

Upgrade Holyrood is committed to improving democracy in Scotland. So what have the Scottish Greens pledged on strengthening Scotland’s democracy?

In terms of proposed democratic reforms, the Greens have focused on local improvements. The Greens have a section on “Local Democracy and Communities” where they highlight three achievements in the past five years. They say they:

~Won over £500 million additional investment in local services, from swimming pools to schools

~Introduced new powers for councils to raise local levies on tourism and workplace car parking

~Championed participatory democracy, including Scotland’s citizens assemblies

Scottish Greens Manifesto (2021)

The manifesto commits the party to five key pledges on local democracy and communities. These are:

We believe in Local Government. It plays a critical role in all of our lives, which is why we have focused on empowering and properly funding it over the last Parliament. We believe that rebuilding local democracy and empowering local government to meet the needs of the public should be at the heart of a green recovery.

The Scottish Greens will:

• Deliver empowered, genuinely local councils. We will reverse the 50-year decline in the status of local government by backing widespread decentralisation of powers to local government and addressing the massive disparity between Scotland and other European countries, with Scottish councils ten times bigger than the European average.

• Oppose Ministerial vetoes over local decisions. Local councils are best placed to determine what’s needed in their areas, but across a huge range of policies, the Scottish Government has legislated to give Ministers a veto. We will always presume that such provisions should be removed from laws unless it can be demonstrated they are absolutely necessary and proportionate.

• Promote more diverse local representation. Women, people of colour, disabled people, trans people, and others with protected characteristics remain under-represented in local government. We will work to remove barriers to their full participation. We will increase the annual allowance for councillors, so it enables everyone to make it a full-time role. We will clarify ambiguity around maternity and parental leave, and extend access to public office funding across all protected characteristics.

• Put local, democratic ownership at the heart of a Green Recovery. We will back Councils to be able to own vital green infrastructure including public transport and local energy companies.

• Stimulate participatory democracy at local level. Greens pioneered participatory decision-making in Scotland, both locally and nationally. We will work to formalise citizens assemblies on an ongoing basis, locally and nationally, and introduce statutory duties on Councils and the wider public sector to support and enable new levels of local governance.

Scottish Green Party (2021)

Upgrade Holyrood supports reforms to Scottish Local government. Devolution shouldn’t just go from London to Edinburgh; it should flow from Edinburgh to local authorities and go directly in the hands of communities. Ballot Box Scotland has produced some excellent analysis and possible solutions for reforming local government that would restructure it in a way that brings government closer to constituents. The Greens’ proposals echo a lot of that. Their recognition that Scottish councils are abnormally large and that powers are far from citizens are most welcome.

The Scottish Green Party’s ambition to improve diversity in local government is welcome, with their plan to increase councillor remuneration something worth considering.

The party also beats the drum for participatory democracy – and not just on the local level. Local citizens’ assemblies have increased in occurrence in recent years. They have been used in Canada to explore options for electoral reform and are proposed by Make Votes Matter as a tool to find agreement for a fair alternative to First Past the Post at Westminster. The first citizens assembly in Scotland published its report in January 2021, outlining 60 proposals for improving how Scotland is run. And in December 2020, a report put together by the Sortition Foundation, the Electoral Reform Society, RSA and Common Weal outlined what a permanent second chamber in the form of a citizens assembly could look like in Scotland. More local citizens assemblies could well be used in future alongside traditional representative democracy.

However, while the Scottish Greens’ manifesto discusses ways to improve local democracy and government, and it does make clear the party’s position Scottish independence and the EU, it doesn’t address ways to improve democratic processes and mechanisms in the Scottish Parliament.

Better Proportional Representation

The Scottish Greens support the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and included a commitment to replacing the Additional Member System at Holyrood with STV in their 2016 manifesto. The Scottish Parliament’s voting system does not get a mention in the 2021 manifesto although it is assumed the Greens do still support it.

Ending dual mandates

The Greens’ new manifesto doesn’t say anything about dual mandates, which have been a topic for discussion with Douglas Ross, Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey all planning on holding dual mandates if elected to the Scottish Parliament in May.

Other improvements to Holyrood democracy

It is also worth noting that the party’s manifesto says nothing in preventing MSPs from holding second jobs, as well as nothing on making parliamentary terms four years, as supported by Upgrade Holyrood, nor does it say anything on creating a permanent hybrid parliament. Again it is worth saying that just because these policies aren’t in the manifesto doesn’t mean that the party doesn’t support them.

Overall, devolving power closer to communities is a good thing and some of the party’s policies will do just that. The Green party’s proposals for more participatory democracy are also welcome as a way to innovate the mechanics of representative democracy in Scotland.

One main manifesto down, four to go.

Notes:

The Scottish Greens’ manifesto (Our Common Future) was launched on Wednesaday 14 April 2021 by Co-Leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater. The full document can be accessed here.

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