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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
However, the return of dual mandate holders looks likely at the upcoming Scottish Parliament election. Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross MP is standing for a regional seat with an explicit commitment to holding both his seats simultaneously if elected to the Scottish Parliament (his current Westminster seat of Moray and one of the Holyrood regional list seats in the highlands and islands). Former SNP now Alba MPs Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey plan on doing the same if elected to Holyrood.
Most parties are guilty of having had dual mandate holders one time of another but dual mandates are ultimately wrong and this should be recognised in legislation. Here are five reasons why.
1. Dual mandates are unfair on constituents
This first point is about the principle of the matter. Constituents deserve full-time representatives at both Holyrood and Westminster. MPs and MSPs have different roles in different chambers with full sets of different responsibilities. Constituents deserve fully committed MPs and MSPs dedicated to representing their electorates in a single, clear capacity. Dual mandates make this impossible.
2. Dual mandates are also impractical
In addition to being unfair on constituents in principle, dual mandates are also extremely impractical. Being an MSP or an MP is a full-time job. Having multiple mandates mean that less work is done on behalf of constituents, ultimately weakening the link between voters and their representatives. Not to mention, MSPs and MPs often work more than the standard working week, further highlighting the impracticalities of dual mandates. There’s also the travel considerations. In normal times dual mandate holders have to be in Edinburgh, London and their constituencies throughout the week. This involves serious logistical juggling.
This argument is backed up by empirical evidence. A study by Navarro (2009: 21) examined dual mandate holders in the European Parliament. Dual mandate holders (in this case MEPs holding addition mandates in their national parliaments) were found to be less productive than single mandate holders as measured by reports made by them, questions tabled, speeches given and attendance in the parliament. While this study was for a different legislature, it adds significant weight to the argument that dual mandates are impractical.
3. Dual mandates don’t necessary strengthen local clout in parliament
One of the most common arguments in favour of dual mandates is that they strengthen the links local communities have with different legislatures as constituents have one point of contact in different levels of governance. It follows that representatives going to a legislature higher up in the governance structure with additional more localised mandates are more likely to account for local interests as opposed to sticking with party policy for example.
This does sound somewhat logical but the empirical evidence fails to back this up. One study (Van de Voode 2020) found that while representatives with multiple mandates feel they have a greater connection with their own communities, that does not translate into how they operate in parliament.
The estimated regression models demonstrate that dual mandate holders indeed perceive themselves as local brokers, even when controlling for various systemic, party and individual level factors. On the other hand, they struggle to translate their localized attitudes into localized parliamentary behaviour, which could call one of the main arguments in favour of dual mandate holding into question.
Van de Voode (2020)
The argument of local follow-through doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
This may sound like a stretch but there is some evidence to suggest that dual mandates can lead to corruption. This is primarily from France where holding multiple mandates at different levels of government has very much been a part of French political culture.
As put by Navarro (2009: 19):
“As noted by Bernard Chantebout, in the French context, the parliamentarians are not usually corrupted in their capacity as parliamentarians: only those MPs who are in charge of a local executive have been convicted of corruption. It is indeed all the more tempting for “cumulants” to accept a bride when they decide (at the local level) about a public tender or about any urban policy that they are protected from prosecution by their parliamentary immunity.”
Navarro (2009: 19)
This definitely isn’t the main reason to ban dual mandates, and is very much a minority problem, but the fact that dual mandates could facilitate this only adds another reason to implement a ban.
5. Restrictions on dual mandates are gaining popularity
There is growing recognition that dual mandates are unfair on constituents. A popular idea alone is no reason to support reform but the current momentum against dual mandates shows that countries are recognising the problems associated with them.
Members of the European Parliament cannot take their seats if they hold a national mandate while members of the provincial legislatures in Canada cannot even stand for federal office.
Even France which has a long history of politicians holding multiple mandates, has taken a stance against them in recent years under Emmanual Macron’s government.
Closer to home, in 2014 the House of Commons banned dual mandates for members of the Welsh Parliament and Northern Assembly. The bans made Scotland the only constituent nation of the UK where dual mandates for the devolved national administration are not banned.
Dual mandates should be banned in Scotland to build a fairer and more efficient democracy. The route to banning dual mandates involves political agreement and likely legislation in Westminster rather than the Scottish Parliament as shown by previous laws made regarding Wales and Northern Ireland.
Douglas Ross’ likely return to Holyrood – in addition to the possible elections of Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey to the Scottish Parliament (in addition to their seats in the Commons) – puts the issue clearly in the spotlight.
However, this likely return of dual mandates also stresses the challenges to banning them. The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons and Ross leads the Scottish Conservatives. From a point of view of the practicalities of parliamentary politics (not to mention Conservative resistance to any democratic improvements), it seems unlikely that the Conservatives will budge on this issue. That said, opposition parties should continue to push for reform.
Dual mandates are not the most important issue in Scottish politics, not to mention that they are not the most important democratic reform campaign issue. Nonetheless, dual mandates are clearly wrong and ultimately unfair on constituents. A ban on dual mandates in Scotland is long overdue. Let’s make 2021 the last Scottish election where dual mandates are possible.
Upgrade Holyrood is a political blog and resource dedicated to improving Scotland’s representative politics and delivering relevant political analysis and commentary. Scottish politics needs an upgrade and Upgrade Holyrood aims to provide a space to help facilitate that.