8 Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges to improve Scottish democracy

By Richard Wood

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.

READ MORE: Scottish Labour MSP “sympathetic” to Holyrood electoral reform

Manifesto pledges

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

  1. 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
  2. Create a New Contempt of Parliament rule so minority governments cannot ignore the Scottish Parliament as a whole
  3. Replace the Additional Member System with the Single Transferable Vote for Scottish Parliament elections
  4. Return to four-year parliamentary terms
  5. Work with other parties to further a culture of respect and use the pandemic experience go make Holyrood more flexible and family friendly
  6. Introduce a recall system for MSPs
  7. 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
  8. Increase usage of Citizens’ Assemblies


The party’s manifesto commits the Scottish Lib Dems 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 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.

READ MORE: These 5 reforms will improve Scottish democracy

6 Scottish Labour manifesto pledges on improving democracy

By Richard Wood

Scottish Labour were the last of the main five parties in Scotland to launch their manifesto ahead of the election on 6 May 2021.

Here’s what they have pledge to support in the next parliament.

Party overview

Anas Sarwar’s party unveiled his party’s 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 the 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 significant win for Scottish Labour would be to take second place from Douglas Ross’ Scottish Conservatives.

READ MORE: Scottish Labour MSP says he’s “sympathetic” to electoral reform at Holyrood

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


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

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

Scottish Labour and electoral reform manifesto commitments in 2016