Elected mayors in Scotland: is now the time for Aberdeen’s Andy Burnham?

The elections of May 2021 were dubbed as “super Thursday” due to the sheer number of votes that took place across the UK. In addition to the 129 MSPs elected in Scotland, Wales voted for a new Welsh parliament, London got a new assembly and thousands of local councillors were elected right across England. Voters in England also voted for new Police and Crime Commissioners as well as directly elected executive mayors.

Compared to the messy English system of local government (with mayors, unitary authorities, parish councils and mord), Scotland’s local government is slick and easy to understand. Next year Scottish voters will be going to the polls to vote for councillors in 32 local authorities using the Single Transferable Vote. There’s a lot wrong with Scottish local governance but complexity isn’t it.

Upgrade Holyrood supports more powers for local authorities and has welcomed proposals to improve the system. Ballot Box Scotland’s blueprint is a fascinating and coherent suggestion to revitalise local democracy and empower communities in all corners of Scotland. But what about the possibility of introducing directly elected executive mayors (DEEMs) like in the England? Could the introduction of mayors invigorate Scottish local government?

It’s an intriguing prospect. Andy Burnham, a possible future Labour leader, has filled his boots as Mayor of Greater Manchester and has become a clear, local champion for the area. A directly elected mayor in Aberdeen or Dundee could play a similar role, pulling the political gravity away from the dominant central belt. The ability to give a face to a local political force, as well as the creation of one clear accountable individual for local issues, would be the main advantage of any reform.

But a directly elected executive mayor would fundamentally alter the nature of local democracy in Scotland.

Upgrade Holyrood strongly supports better representative democracy hence the support of Proportional Representation for Westminster elections, as well as better PR for Holyrood elections.

READ MORE: 12 Reasons to support Proportional Representation

Directly elected executive mayors would somewhat clash with these principles. Current council executives are derived from agreements made by parties who together make up a majority of seats. The executive is usually multi-party thanks to the Single Transferable Vote.

Directly elected executive mayors would put an incredible amount of power in the hands of one person (and party). Such mayors are very much in the tradition of majoritarian democracy which limits their ability to fairly represent all in government. Diversity of opinion is important and while an elected mayor could listen to other parties their input would be limited.

These are largely the same arguments against a directly elected executive president. Such roles are ultimately one-seat constituencies that consolidate power in far too concentrated a place.

That said, while there are significant risks with introducing such mayors, they could still be an effective democratic tool in Scottish local government.

Crucially, if such proposals were to be seriously considered by any future Scottish government, there are three principles that they should adhere to in order to retain good representative democracy and weaken risks associated with majoritarian structures of government.

The first is the principle of consent. Any proposals for directly elected executive mayors in say Edinburgh or Glasgow should be ratified by the people that the decision would affect. In practical terms this would amount to local referenda. As an aside there would be an intriguing dynamic if say Edinburgh voted for a directly executive elected mayor while Glasgow rejected such a proposal.

The second is the principle of ensuring widespread support for any successful mayor. In order to be as representative as possible, the most effective way to elect a single-member seat for a single-member institution (such as a local mayor or national president) is one that ensures the winner has majority support. While this does not ensure that every voice is represented in the executive role (which can only be done in multi-member positions), it does maximise representation and strengthens the legitimacy of any elected mayor.

What this means is that the voting system used to elect directly elected mayors should not be First Past the Post. The Home Secretary’s proposals to replace the Supplementary Vote with FPTP for mayoral elections is an absolute travesty that should be fiercely opposed. Elected mayors should have broad support – First Past the Post very clearly does not provide this. However, the Supplementary Vote is not much better. It ensures broader support than FPTP but tactical voting and speculation are embedded into it.

Any elections for DEEMs in Scotland should use a better system. One option would be a two-round system. Voters back their favourite candidate with an ‘X’ and if no candidate wins 50%+1 of the vote then all but the top two candidates advance to a second round. Voters then return to the polls at a second date to select their mayor. This system is used for French presidential elections, as well as for non-executive presidential elections around Europe. It ensures broad support, however, it has numerous problems. The first is that it’s time consuming and turnout can vary in different rounds – local government turnout is so low any way, this is probably not the best approach. The second fault of this system is that when multiple candidates do well enough in the first round, say 8 candidates each get around 10% of the vote. The top two could be ideologically very similar and both advance to the next round. This is a problem if the other six candidates have completely different views.

The best approach to electing any directly executive mayors is therefore an instant run-off system, which would be the Alternative Vote or STV with a district magnitude of one. Under this system, mayors will achieve broad support as voters rank candidates in order of preference.

The third principle is that local councils should not end up as glorified, sentient rubber stamps. That is to say that while DEEMs would render local councils solely legislative bodies, separating the executive from the legislature, they should be able to actively input into the mayor’s agenda and provide high levels of scrutiny. How this would work in practice is not my area of expertise but there are lessons to be learnt from countries around the world where executives are separately elected from the legislature.

Introducing directly elected executive mayors into Scottish democracy would drastically alter the nature of representative democracy in Scotland, which has trended away from majoritarianism. The broadly proportional Scottish Parliament and the 2007 switch to STV for local councils demonstrates this. That said, the suggestion is an intriguing one and could potentially enhance Scottish local democracy – but only with strict controls to ensure representative democracy and multiparty input.

Directly elected executive mayors are not actively supported by Ugrade Holyrood but the prospect is one to examine further.

Scottish Tory Murdo Fraser supports electoral reform at Holyrood

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser has voiced his support for electoral reform of the Scottish Parliament in an article for the Scotsman (published 2 June 2021).

Conservative support for a switch from First Past the Post to PR at Westminster is generally limited – as is Conservative support for a more proportional system at Holyrood. Murdo Fraser’s support for change is welcome although it is worth noting he has not clarified if he supports PR at Westminster. But based on his opposition to distorted electoral outcomes, he should really be consistent in his thinking and support PR at all levels.

Fraser’s arguments for reform are Holyrood are broadly in-keeping with the arguments for reform made by Upgrade Holyrood – albeit in much more party politically-charged language (not to mention the constitutional question).

That said, this is a welcome move from Fraser who is only in his position thanks to the proportional element of Scotland’s voting system.

The Additional Member System used for Holyrood elections is far more representative than FPTP used at Westminster. Under AMS, seats broadly reflect votes but it isn’t perfect.

READ MORE: 12 reasons to support Proportional Representation

AMS has a number of flaws, many of which Murdo Fraser rightly highlights. These include the opportunity for parties to “game the list” (ultimately distorting overall representation), the ratio between constituency MSPs and regional MSPs, two classes of MSPs, limited voter choice and the lack of national proportionality.

There is an opportunity to build a coalition for change at Holyrood. But the question is what system would be best?

One alternative would be a moderate change: making AMS more closely resemble the system used in Germany by having levelling seats so that overall seats reflect regional vote shares. This could also incorporate an open-list element like in Bavaria.

Murdo Fraser posits this option:

“The issue of patronage could be resolved by the introduction of “open lists”, whereby it would be the voters in a particular region who would determine which party list candidates were elected, rather than the individual party machines. This reform would be beneficial in allowing more independently-minded MSPs to be elected, rather that those who simply slavishly follow the party line.”

Murdo Fraser MSP (2021)

However, this would merely be a sticking-plaster approach. Adopting the Single Transferable Vote or a full PR system (with multiple constituencies, levelling seats and open lists) would be better alternatives. Murdo Fraser even goes as far as saying there should be a fundamental review of the current arrangement, clearly highlighting the Single Transferable Vote as an alternative to AMS.

An alternative approach would be to replace the AMS system entirely by introducing single-transferable vote (STV) for Holyrood with multi-member constituencies returning five to seven MSPs.

This would deliver a high degree of proportionality, reduce party patronage, end the two-tier system of parliamentary representation, and still retain the local link for those elected.

Murdo Fraser (2021)

Murdo Fraser’s intervention shows that there is an opportunity to upgrade the electoral system at Holyrood. Only the Scottish Lib Dems supported electoral reform (STV) in their 2021 manifesto although the SNP and the Greens do favour the system in general. There would be a major political challenge for the Scottish Conservatives if they backed STV at Holyrood (if they continue to defend FPTP at Westminster) but the movement for reform at Holyrood is growing.

Murdo Fraser will in time have to respond on his views about Westminster if he continues to push the line for change at Holyrood. If he comes out in favour of PR that’s great news for campaigners and if he doesn’t then it exposes a major hypocrisy that can be easily challenged.

Upgrading Scotland’s electoral system ahead of the 2026 election is a strong possibility. But the campaign for reform must begin now.

You can read more about the flaws of AMS and the alternatives here.

How proportional was the 2021 Scottish Parliament election?

The final Scottish Parliament results came in on Saturday night after a roller-coaster two-day count (please let’s never have that again!). The Scottish Parliament was created with a broadly proportional voting system to ensure that seats match votes but how proportional was the election?

The Additional Member System (AMS) ensures that the link between seats and votes is far more representative than Westminster’s First Past the Post (FPTP).

A good voting system should have a strong link between votes and seats. That a party can win a majority on 43% of the vote (2019) – let alone 35% of the vote (2005) – is a clear sign that First Past the Post fails to facilitate proper representative democracy. There are a number of ways to measure how representative an electoral system is but the most widely-known method is the Gallagher Index. There is no need to go in the maths behind it here but a low Gallagher Index score shows good proportionality while a higher one indicates bad proportionality.

The Gallagher Index scores for the previous Scottish elections, according to Electoral Reform Society calculations, are shown below.

1999: 8.5, 2003: 8.2, 2007: 9.1, 2011: 8.6, 2016: 6.2

On their own the Gallagher index scores do not how much but compared to UK election scores we can see that the Scottish Parliament is far fairer than First Past the Post used at Westminster. Take the 2015 election for example, which had the Conservatives win a majority on 37% of the vote and UKIP winning 13% of the vote but only one seat. The Gallagher score on that occasion was 15, with all other elections since 1974 having Gallagher indices with double digits.

The 2016 election was therefore the most proportional since the advent of devolution in 1999 but what about the most recent 2021 election? Upgrade Holyrood’s own 2021 Gallagher index calculations gets a figure of 7.8, making the 2021 election the second most proportional election since 1999. (Update: Ballot Box Scotland has a figure of 7.3 so I will need to revisit my calculations but either way we’re in the same rough area).

This can be seen from the performances of each party: SNP (regional vote share 40.3%, seat share 49.6%), Scottish Conservatives (23.5%, 24%), Scottish Labour (18%, 17.1%), Scottish Greens (8.1%, 6.2%) and the Scottish Lib Dems (5.1%, 3.1%). Overall, this is broadly proportional although the SNP outperform due to their constituency dominance.

As mentioned, the Additional Member System, despite being far more representative in terms of proportionality than First Past the Post, has its flaws. Alba’s plan to game the system, by explicitly calling on voters to vote SNP in constituencies and Alba on the list, shows one clear fault: the risk of so-called satellite parties standing in the regions with an explicit intention of artificially exaggerating the support of one party. Had a supermajority materialised, the Gallagher index would likely have rivalled UK election scores. The same goes with All for Unity which had a similar strategy for unionist voters.

READ MORE: Salmond’s Alba venture exposes Scotland’s voting system flaws

The system may not have been successfully gamed by Alba on this occasion but the party has certainly exposed a key flaw of the system, highlighting the need for reform.

This is compounded by the fact that AMS is far from perfect in other aspects. The ratio of constituency to regional seats creates a constituency bias – a party could win a majority on constituency seats alone on less than half the vote (the SNP were three away from doing so in 2021). The version of AMS in Wales is even worse in this respect with 40 constituency seats and 20 regional ones. Mark Drakeford’s Welsh Labour won 30 seats but on less than 40% of the vote.

Furthermore, there is no direct mechanism to ensure national proportionality. Measures to ensure regional proportionality accumulate to deliver broadly nationally proportional results, however, they stop short of explicitly doing so.

In addition to that, another problem of AMS is the continued existence of FPTP seats which encourages tactical voting. Tactical voting will always happen in any system to some degree, but as many people as possible should be able to vote for their first choice, not their least favourite option.

Lastly, voters have limited choice over candidates within different parties – the list component of AMS ensures better overall representation but the fact that it is closed means that voters get what parties present. There are other flaws too which can be read about here.

It cannot be said enough that AMS is an improvement on FPTP. The UK needs proroportional representation. AMS results are broadly proportional and constituents are represented by a diverse range of parties but that doesn’t mean there are not better alternatives.

A sticking plaster approach to improving on AMS would be to retain the current system and add levelling seats like in Germany to ensure that seats overall match the regional vote. This would improve proportionality but voters are unlikely to support more politicians. An open-list element could be added to the regional list which would ensure voter choice like on Bavaria. In theory this would be an excellent improvement but adding a potential third ballot risks complicating things.

A better alternative would be the Single Transferable Vote, which would involve multi-member constituencies where voters rank candidates by order of preference. STV would deliver proportional outcomes while give voters a significant amount of power over candidates and parties. It is currently supported by the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens, as well as leading reform groups such as the Electoral Reform Society.

There is also the less talked about system of open-list PR with levelling seats, which is used in the likes of Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, and is advocated by Ballot Box Scotland (who has been an invaluable resource during the 2021 election it must be said!). Under such a system there would be multi-member systems where voters choose one party but get to vote for candidates within that party. Once seats are distributed there would then be a mechanism to allocate additional seats to ensure proportional outcomes overall.

Overall, the 2021 Scottish election delivered a broadly proportional outcome, which should be commended. the fact that Westminster still uses First Past the Post is a travesty, putting us at odds with most democracies. That said we should learn still from the flaws exposed from the likes of Alba and All for Unity and reform Scotland’s voting system for the better.

Polling suggests most Scots oppose dual mandates and second jobs for politicians

A new Panelbase poll suggests that most Scots oppose dual mandates, the practice where politicians hold more than one elected position.

Dual mandate holders have been minimal in recent years but Douglas Ross’ intention to remain an MP if he becomes an MSP in May has put the issue into the spotlight.

The findings come from a Panelbase poll commissioned by Scot Goes Pop conducted between 21 and 26 April.

The poll asked voters for their views on Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross’ intentions if he wins a seat at Holyrood. It found that 67% of Scots think the MP for Moray should give up at least one of his numerous positions if elected to the Scottish Parliament on 6 May.

Ross has explicitly committeed to holding a dual mandate as have former SNP now Alba MPs Neale Hanvey and Kenny MacAskill who are standing for seats in Holyrood.

The Panelbase poll specifically asked about Ross but the findings therefore indicate that most Scots would favour banning the practice of dual mandates as well as restrictions on jobs in addition to being employed as an MP or MSP.

READ MORE: Patterns of dual mandates in the Scottish Parliament since 1999

Dual mandates were banned for Wales and Northern Ireland in 2014.

The practice is also banned in the European Parliament and other countries such as Canada. Even France, which has had a strong culture of dual mandates, has restricted the practice in recent years.

The case against dual mandates is strong as they are ultimately unfair on constituents who deserve full-time representatives. This is backed up by academic evidence which suggests that dual mandate holders are less productive than full-time committed representatives. Considering that MPs work more than a standard working week, this should not come as a surprise.

Dual mandates should be banned in the name of fair and efficient representation.

READ MORE: 5 reasons to ban dual mandates for MSPs and MPs

8 Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges to improve Scottish democracy

Willie Rennie’s Scottish Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto on Friday 16 April with a key campaign pledge of putting the recovery first.

The party served in coalition government with Scottish Labour after the first two Holyrood elections. Their second stint in coalition led to local government reform in the shape of the Single Transferable Vote replacing First Past the Post voting system for council elections. This was a big win for democracy campaigners that would not have been possible without the party.

In 2007 the Lib Dems stayed out of government as the SNP took charge and in 2011 they dropped to just five MSPs due to backlash against the Westminster coalition. Five years later, the party kept steady with five MSPs and are going into the election with the hope of building on that total.

Manifesto pledges

The party’s manifesto is brimming with policies designed to improve Scottish democracy. The party has pledged to:

  • Introduce a new fiscal framework to improve council funding, as well as more powers for local councils including the ability to set domestic and business taxation areas
  • Create a New Contempt of Parliament rule so minority governments cannot ignore the Scottish Parliament as a whole
  • Replace the Additional Member System with the Single Transferable Vote for Scottish Parliament elections
  • Return to four-year parliamentary terms
  • Work with other parties to further a culture of respect and use the pandemic experience go make Holyrood more flexible and family friendly
  • Introduce a recall system for MSPs
  • Strengthen and expand the public’s right to information and introduce a new duty to record so the public can access information on important ministerial meetings
  • Increase usage of Citizens’ Assemblies

Analysis

The party’s manifesto commits to a number of pledges that chime with the main focuses of Upgrade Holyrood.

Replacing the Additional Member System with a fairer alternative is a welcome pledge as is a return to four-year parliamentary terms. The Scottish Lib Dems are the only main party with these pledges but the SNP and the Greens support STV in principle so electoral reform in that shape could be on the table. Although it is worth noting that such a change would require a two-thirds majority.

Using lessons learnt from the pandemic to make Holyrood more flexible is also welcome as it hints at the continuance of a hybrid parliament even when we return for normality. The Scottish Conservatives have also hinted at this in their manifesto. Such a change would be beneficial for constituents as well as the MSPs representing them.

Further citizens’ asemblies and a recall rule for MSPs are also welcome as they would empower citizens and improve accountability of the legislature.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat 2021 election manifesto can be viewed here.

6 Scottish Labour manifesto pledges on improving democracy

Scottish Labour were the last of the main five parties in Scotland to launch their manifesto.

Party overview

Anas Sarwar’s party unveiled their policy priorities on Thursday 23 April and are hoping to take second place from the Scottish Conservatives on 6 May.

The party has lost seats at every single Scottish election since 1999 so reversing this trend would be a positive step for the party, which went from being Scotland’s dominant party in the 2007 Scottish General Election (and 2010 UK election) to battling it out with the Conservatives for second place in 2016 and 2021.

The party is now on its tenth permanent leader since devolution but polls suggest Anas Sarwar is cutting through. A win for Scottish Labour would be to take second place from Douglas Ross’ Scottish Conservatives.

Manifesto pledges on Scottish democracy

The party’s main proposals on Scottish democracy in 2021 are to:

  • Devolve further powers to Holyrood (borrowing and employment rights)
  • Introduce a Clean Up Holyrood Commission
  • Elect Holyrood committee conveners via the whole Scottish Parliament
  • Give Holyrood committees more powers
  • Further devolve powers to local government
  • Introduce a “Right to Space” to ensure communities have places to meet and funding to build the capacity to participate as active citizens

Manifesto

The full Scottish Labour manifesto for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election can be accessed here.

SEE MORE: A comparison of the five main parties’ 2021 manifestos

Scottish Labour and electoral reform manifesto commitments in 2016

Patterns of dual mandates in the Scottish Parliament from 1999 – 2021

Ahead of the Upgrade Holyrood report on dual mandates set to be released later this month, below is an extract looking at the patterns of dual mandate holders in the Scottish Parliament.

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 section is based on information compiled by the Scottish Parliament (2021) and covers MSPs with dual mandates.

Figure 1: MSP dual mandates per Scottish Parliamentary session since 1999
Source: Scottish Parliament

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.

Figure 2: Session One (1999 -2003) dual mandates by political party
Source: 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.

Figure 3: Session Two (2003 -2007) dual mandates by political party
Source: Scottish Parliament

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.

Figure 4: Session Three (2007 – 2011) dual mandates by political party
Source: Scottish Parliament

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.

Figure 5: Session Four (2011 – 2016) dual mandates by political party
Source: Scottish Parliament

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.

Figure 6: Session Five (2016 – 2021) dual mandates by political party
Source: Scottish Parliament

Summary

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.

SEE ALSO: 5 reasons to ban MSP-MP dual mandates

SEE ALSO: Ending dual mandates

Scottish Conservative 2021 election manifesto: democracy and electoral reform commitments

Douglas Ross MP (by David Woolfall • CC BY 3.0)

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party launched their manifesto at 11am on Monday 19 April 2021.

When it comes to making changes to improve democracy, conservatives are usual timid in their approach. One only needs to look at their attitudes towards House of Lords reform under the coalition and their initial opposition to the Scottish Parliament to see that. More recently, at a UK the Conservative Party is hardening its stance against any positive changes at all, with the party even going as far as pledging to replace the slightly fairer supplementary vote used for mayoral elections with the archaic First Past the Post voting system. That said it is worth remember that the party does have some proponents of electoral reform, most notably Derek Thomas MP who is part of the Make Votes Matter alliance for Proportional Representation.

When it comes to improving Scottish democracy, the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto takes some small steps.

The manifesto has a section on strengthening Scotland’s democracy.

A recall rule (“Mackay’s law”)

The party’s manifesto commits the party to introducing a recall rule for MSPs similar to the one that exists in Westminster. The party have branded it as Mackay’s law following Derek Mackay’s resignation as finance minister and as SNP member in February 2021. This would allow “the public to recall MSPs who have broken the law, grossly undermined trust or failed to contribute to Parliament for more than six months”.

Votes at 16

The party also promises to retain votes at 16 for Scottish elections, showing that the party fully accepts this and that there is broad consensus for votes at 16 in Scotland.

On the voting franchise, they oppose votes for prisoners, which is a discussion for another time.

SEE ALSO: 5 reasons to ban MSP-MP dual mandates

Scottish Government numbers and MSP pay

The manifesto also makes a promise to cut the number of cabinet members in the Scottish Government and freeze MSP and ministerial pay over the next five years. There are question marks over whether such a move would improve Scottish democracy.

We believe in efficient government, not costly politics. The SNP used to promise a “smaller, better-focused ministerial team” that would “reduce bureaucracy” but over their 14 years in government the SNP have become more bloated than the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition they replaced.

To reduce the cost of politics and get the Scottish Government 100 per cent focused on the task of rebuilding our country, we support a reduction in the size of the Cabinet from 12 to 6, as the SNP themselves did in 2007, and a cap on the number of ministers and advisers. This will create a more focused team, solely engaged in our economic recovery and the running of devolved public services.

Given the need to maximise resources going to our frontline public services and the need for politicians to lead by example, we will support a freeze in MSP and ministerial pay for the next five years.

Scottish Conservative Manifesto (2021)

Strengthening the opposition

In this section of the Scottish Conservative manifesto, the party references the Alex Salmond enquiry, making the case that the Scottish Parliament needs to be able to better scrutinise the Scottish Government. The party pledges its support to lead a cross-party commission on doing this, with a remit including the accountability of ministers in parliament and the need for MSPs to have additional legal protections in debates.

Interestingly, the manifesto also tags on the possibility of the commission examining the practices of the Scottish Parliament “to make them more suitable for MSPs with young families”. Although not explicit, this pledge opens the possibility for the party to support permanent hybrid working even after the pandemic, which would be most welcome.

Analysis

Overall, the party’s pledges on improving Scotland’s democracy are unsurprisingly timid and conservative (with a small c). The pledge to keep votes at 16 shows that the policy now has widespread support in Scotland, even if the UK Conservative does not support an extension of the UK franchise.

Their proposal for a recall mechanism is most welcome, although there would need to be significant checks and balances like at Westminster to prevent the system being exploited politically.

Unsurprisingly, the party does not support a voting system upgrade (that would be headline news here and probably elsewhere too) nor does it support an end to dual mandates (hardly unexpected considering Douglas Ross plans on holding one if elected to Holyrood). The party’s manifesto also fails to mention restrictions on second jobs for MSPs or a return to four-year parliamentary terms.

Lastly, as already mentioned the party does not mention a permanent hybrid parliament but its proposed commission would have a remit for recommending ways to make parliamentary life easier for MSPs with young families. This potentially covers the possibility of a hybrid parliament and would be a welcome upgrade to Scottish parliamentary politics.

You can read the full manifesto here.

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

Scottish election 2021: What did each of the parties commit to on electoral reform in 2016?

The 2021 Scottish election campaign is underway and the launch of the Alba Party has put the issue of Holyrood’s electoral system in the spotlight. Ahead of manifesto launches this month, we take a look at what the parties said about the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system in 2016?

Scottish National Party (SNP)

The SNP’s 2016 manifesto made no mention of electoral reform at the Scottish Parliament. The party more generally does support the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which would be a welcome alternative to AMS, and has made commitments to STV at Westminster in recent UK General Election manifestos.

However, the party has not made an explicit commitment to STV at Holyrood in any of its Scottish election manifestos since 2003. Let’s hope the party addresses the issue in its 2021 manifesto. And even if they don’t, let’s hope the rise of Alba gets them to address the issue in some capacity.

Scottish Conservatives

Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives leapfrogged Labour to become the second largest party at Holyrood in 2016. For a party that generally supports First Past the Post and resists a switch to Proportional Representation at Westminster, the party has certainly benefited from a form of PR at Holyrood.

Unsurprisingly however, the party made no commitment to electoral system reform in their 2016 election manifesto.

Scottish Labour

Labour has long opposed ditching First Past the Post at Westminster but the party was involved in implementing AMS at Holyrood, which is broadly proportional. The party now has over 200 CLPs in favour of PR and the party’s momentum group recently voted to support a switch to PR at Westminster. The party is clearly moving in the right direction ahead of 2024.

In 2016, Scottish Labour made no mention of electoral system reform at Holyrood but made other welcome pledges to improve Scottish democracy including a ban on MSPs having second jobs and devolution of powers to local communities. Let’s see what they say in 2021.

Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have long advocated the Single Transferable Vote as the best form of Proportional Representation. The party’s 2016 manifesto didn’t explicitly address the issue of electoral reform but the party strongly supports it. Their 2021 manifesto is yet to be launched but the party has already made clear that switching from AMS to STV will be part of the party’s policy programme.

Scottish Green Party

The Scottish Greens also support the Single Transferable Vote and their 2016 election manifesto included an explicit commitment to reform Holyrood with STV.

A fairer way to elect MSPs. Greens support the use of Single Transferable Vote for future Holyrood elections. This system is already used in local council elections and is more likely to create a diverse parliament that better reflects the views of voters.

Scottish Green Party (2016: 37)

The Greens are therefore likely to include another commitment to STV their upcoming manifesto.

Read more about the need to upgrade Scotland’s voting system here.

Salmond’s Alba venture exposes Scotland’s voting system flaws (via Politics.co.uk)

On 31 March 2021 I had an article published in Politics.co.uk highlighting the need to replace Scotland’s electoral system with a fairer alternative.

The launch of the Alba party and Alex Salmond’s explicit intention to exploit a loophole in the Additional Member System spurred me on to actually launch Upgrade Holyrood.

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has launched a new party with the intention of forming a  “supermajority” for independence in the Scottish parliament, together with the SNP and the Greens. His Alba party has momentum, but its strategy is to exploit a fault in Scotland’s largely proportional hybrid voting system. Alex Salmond’s latest venture exposes the need for electoral reform at Holyrood.

To someone with a limited knowledge of Scottish politics, Alba may sound like a development that will hurt the SNP in May’s Scottish election. But this is far from the case.

Richard Wood (2021) via Politics.co.uk

Scottish democracy can and must be better. Scotland’s voting system needs an upgrade.

The full article can be read here.