Upgrade Holyrood’s paper on ending dual mandates in Scotland was published on 30 April 2021. The full report can be downloaded below.
The term “dual mandates” refers to the situation where one individual simultaneously holds two (usually elected) political roles. Since the advent of devolution in 1999 (and before that with local authority representatives), dual mandates have been a consequence of Scotland’s multi-layered government. A dual mandate holder in Scotland is anyone who simultaneously holds mandates for the Scottish Parliament, the House of Commons, the House of Lords or local councils.
While the number of dual mandate holders has been limited since the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, the commitment by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross to hold a dual MSP-MP mandate if elected at the 2021 election puts the issue into the spotlight. Similarly, the intentions of Alba MPs Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey to do the same have further brought the issue into mainstream political discourse. Many countries and pan-national organisations around the world have in recent years have addressed dual mandates with restrictions in various reforms.
Restrictions in Wales and Northern Ireland make Scotland the only devolved nation where MPs can also hold a second mandate in a devolved administration. The European Parliament banned dual mandates in 2002 and even France, which has a widespread culture of dual mandates, has introduced recent restrictions to address the issue.
The central problem with dual mandates is one of two connected parts. Firstly, an individual elected in one role to one legislative body with a specific set of responsibilities should give all their time and energy to that position. To do otherwise is unfair on constituents and may create conflicts of interest, and even opportunities for corruption.
Secondly, there are related practical considerations. In the case of MSPs, MPs and often Lords, these are full-time (not to mention well-paid) positions. Constituents deserve full-time representatives. It is impossible to expect an MSP-MP to commit the same amount of time and energy to each role that they would do for just one of the positions. Not to mention the challenges of being in Holyrood, Westminster, and one’s constituency. Dual mandates present an insurmountable logistical challenge.
READ MORE: 5 reasons to ban MSP-MP dual mandates
To ensure fair and efficient representation, dual mandates should be restricted in Scotland. Scotland could follow Wales and Northern Ireland (by banning dual mandates with some practical exceptions) or else introduce a ban on candidacy for existing representatives (like in Canada).
A simple ban on representatives taking their seats in a different legislative body while holding another mandate (like in the European Parliament) offers another approach. A model based on the approach taken in Northern Ireland would likely be the best approach for Scotland, but the decision will ultimately be up to legislators after hearing from stakeholders at all levels of governance in Scotland as well as empirical evidence and analyses from experts.
Whatever form they take, restrictions on dual mandates are necessary to build a fairer, efficient, and ultimately more representative Scottish democracy.