By Richard Wood
When an individual holds two political offices simultaneously they are exercising a dual mandate. The likes of Donald Dewar (Labour), Alex Salmond (SNP) and Jim Wallace (Liberal Democrat) have all held dual mandates in the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons but the phenomenon has been limited in recent years.
Dual mandates are unfair on constituents, not to mention impractical, and should be banned.
This article outlines the patterns of dual mandates across the first five Scottish Parliaments.
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The total number of dual mandates held by MSPs in each parliamentary session tells a story that largely reflects the changing political winds of the time. In raw numerical terms, dual mandates are not a dominating feature of Scottish politics but just because they aren’t on the political radar doesn’t mean they should not be addressed. MSPs with dual mandates have fluctuated since 1999 as illustrated in the below figures.
All data in this post is based on information compiled by the Scottish Parliament (2021) and covers MSPs with dual mandates.
Session 1 (1999 – 2003)
The story of dual mandates at the parliament’s inception was determined by the significant number of MPs elected in 1997 seeking election to the Scottish Parliament at its first election in 1999. Of the 14 newly elected MSPs, most of whom were Labour or SNP, 11 fully committed to the Scottish Parliament by not standing for the UK Parliament in 2001. The other three were Labour’s Donald Dewar, Scotland’s initial first minister who died tragically in 2000, the SNP’s Alex Salmond MSP, who resigned as SNP leader and an MSP in 2001 (before rejoining the parliament in 2007), and Sam Galbraith, a Labour politician who resigned in 2001 for health reasons.
In addition to MSPs with additional House of Commons mandates, three members of the House of Lords were elected to Holyrood in 1999, one from each of the three main UK-wide parties. James Douglas-Hamilton (Conservative), David Steel (Liberal Democrats) and Mike Watson (Labour) all held both roles throughout their time in the Scottish Parliament.
Session 2 (2003 – 2007)
Just five MSPs held dual mandates between 2003 and 2007. The drop largely reflects the settled nature of the chamber, with a limited number of seats changing hands in 2003 meaning that new MSPs were less likely to have existing roles. Two of the MSPs in this session were members of the House of Lords (James Douglas-Hamilton and Mike Watson), who also had dual mandates in session 1.
The other three were existing councillors who either resigned at a local level following election to Holyrood in 2003 (Mike Pringle of the Liberal Democrats) or became MSPs halfway through the Holyrood term in 2005 (Labour’s Charlie Gordon and the Liberal Democrats’ Andrew Arbuckle). Both Charlie Gordon MSP and Andrew Arbuckle MSP stayed as councillors until the 2007 local elections, which were held the same day as the next Scottish General Election.
Session 3 (2007 – 2011)
Five of the six MSPs who were also councillors in this session were SNP members, first elected to Holyrood at the 2007 election, as part of the party’s success at the time. Two resigned as councillors in 2009, one resigned as a councillor in August 2007 and one, Stefan Tymkewycz, stepped down as an MSP just three months into the job to concentrate on his role as an Edinburgh councillor. The other two councillors (the SNP’s Willie Coffey and the Lib Dem’s Jim Hume) held both positions throughout the session. There were also thee MSPs who were MPs, one being Alex Salmond who returned to Holyrood at the 2007 election and became first minister, and two Labour MPs (Margaret Curran and Cathy Jamieson) who won Westminster seats in 2010 and did not stand for re-election in 2011.
In addition, three MSPs (Labour’s George Foulkes and former First Minister Jack McConnell and the Lib Dem’s Nicol Stephen) were appointed to the House of Lords in Session 3. All three stepped down from Holyrood at the 2011 election.
Session 4 (2011 – 2016)
The high number of MSPs who were also councillors in Session 4 is largely down to the SNP’s success at the 2011 election where they secured an overall majority. All of these members either did not stand for re-election to council in 2012 or resigned before then. Three Labour councillors (Cara Hilton, Lesley Brennan and Jayne Baxter) were not initially elected in 2011 but moved up the list to replace colleagues who resigned in Session 4 and become MSPs themselves.
In addition, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives Annabel Goldie MSP was appointed to the House of Lords in Session 4 and Alex Salmond MSP became an MP once again at the 2015 election. Both held dual mandates throughout the rest of the fourth Scottish Parliamentary term.
Session 5 (2016 – 2021)
Dual mandates in session 5 were largely the result of the influx of new Conservative MSP’s when the party led by Ruth Davidson leapfrogged Labour to become the official opposition at Holyrood. This was the case for seven of the sixteen MSPs who were all councillors, all of whom stepped down from their local councils for the 2017 local elections. This also was the case for two Labour MSPs (Colin Smyth and Monica Lennon).
A further three SNP councillors were elected to Holyrood in 2016 but stood down as councillors throughout 2016. Two more, (the then Conservative’s Michelle Ballantyne and the Liberal Democrats’ Beatrice Wishart) stepped down as councillors soon after they joined Holyrood in the middle of the session via ascension on the list system and a constituency by-election respectively. In contrast, Tom Mason was a Conservative councillor throughout the session having joined the parliament in 2017 following Ross Thomson’s resignation.
Lastly, there were two MSPs who also held MP mandates. Ross Thomson and Douglas Ross were first elected to Holyrood in 2016 but were subsequently elected to Westminster in 2017 following which they quit as MSPs. Thomson’s departure led the appointment of Councillor Tom Mason as an MSP for the North East region. Mason remained MSP and Councillor despite criticism about his dual mandate role.
In July 2020, Douglas Ross declared his intention to stand for Holyrood ahead of his Scottish Conservative leadership launch with the commitment to holding a dual mandate for both parliaments. In the same week, former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was given a seat in the House of Lords, however, she said she would not take her place until the end of her mandate at Holyrood.
Overall, dual mandate patterns are largely representative of changing political winds such as the influx of Labour and SNP MSPs at the parliament’s inception, the surge in support for the SNP in 2007 and 2011 and the jump in representation of Scottish Conservatives in 2016.
Dual mandates in the 1999 – 2003 session are largely the result of Labour and SNP MPs taking up the new opportunity of the Scottish Parliament while the 2003 election says little due to limited change. However, dual mandates in subsequent sessions are largely symptomatic of the Scottish (and British) political career ladder. Local government is often viewed as a stepping-stone to Holyrood or Westminster hence the significant rise in MSP-councillors. There are also hints of a pattern of this with MPs becoming MSPs and vice versa; the career-ladder will depend on an individual’s position on the union, that is to say whether they view Holyrood or Westminster as the main point in Scottish politics.
Dual mandates are not a major issue and are often resolved within a year or two when new MSPs step down as councillors at subsequent local elections. This situation more closely resembles the German pattern of “transitory” dual mandates discussed previously rather than the French situation where the accumulation of mandates has been a widespread phenomenon (Navarro 2009).
However, despite not being a massive issue, discussed dual mandates are problematic as they divide the attention of elected representatives.
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