Scottish Labour MSP Paul Sweeney has said he is “sympathetic” to the idea of electoral system change for the Scottish Parliament.
The Glasgow MSP made the remark while sitting as a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee discussing the petition for electoral reform submitted to the Scottish Parliament (17 November 2021).
I am sympathetic, because it is an on-going and worthwhile discussion. In the 1990s, the Scottish Constitutional Convention established the additional member system as the preferred electoral system, but perhaps there is an on-going need to consider alternatives. Obviously, the single transferable vote for local government elections was introduced in the mid-2000s. There have been observations of concerning practices in the most recent Scottish Parliament elections; most notably, the Greens were perhaps stymied in some instances by a decoy green party, which was higher up the list and seduced votes away from the Greens. I certainly noticed that at the Glasgow count, so there are flaws with the current list structure of two ballots, which are worth further investigation.“
Paul Sweeney MSP (Glasgow)
The Petitions Committee agreed to write to both the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Reform Society on the matter. You can read more about my petition, the actions taken by the committee – and the responses – here.
Scottish Labour currently have no official position on which voting system to use at Holyrood. The UK-wide party currently supports First Past the Post for Westminster elections (although progress is being made to change this view).
The Scottish Liberal Democrats support changing AMS to STV and campaigned on this at the 2021 election. The SNP also generally favour STV while the Scottish Greens have moved towards supporting Open List Proportional Representation.
The Scottish Conservatives are resistant to any positive electoral reforms. Indeed, the Conservative UK Government recently passed one of the most regressive bills relating to elections.
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.
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.
Scotland’s five main political parties have unveiled their manifestos for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. Upgrade Holyrood is committed to improving Scottish representative democracy but what have each of the main political parties pledged to do on this issue?
The Greens were the first of the five main parties to release their manifesto, launching their plan for Scotland on Wednesday 14 April. The manifesto focuses on green issues, restructuring the economy and Scottish independence. It also has a section on “Local democracy and communities” with the party pledging to:
Deliver empowered, genuinely local councils (more powers and an overall restructuring)
Oppose Ministerial vetoes over local decisions
Promote more diverse local representation
More local, democratic ownership
Additional participatory democracy with citizens assembly to be formalised at both local and national levels
The Scottish National Party (SNP)
The SNP are expected to remain the largest party at Holyrood and were second to launch their manifesto (Thursday 15 April 2021). The party is pledging to:
Create a Citizens’ Assembly for under 16s
Extend the entitlement to stand for election to all those entitled to vote
Introduce a Local Democracy Bill to further empower local communities and to ensure that decisions are most closest to those who they will impact the most
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Willie Rennie’s Scottish Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto on Friday 16 April, hoping to build on the five MSPs they won in 2016. 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
Scottish Conservatives and Unionists
Scottish Conservatives’ launched their own manifesto on Monday 19 April. The proposal to introduce a recall rule is the most eye-catching of all. The party proposes to:
Introduce a recall rule for MSPs (Mackay’s law) – this would allow the public to re MSPs who have broken the law, grossly undermined trust or failed to contribute to parliament for over six months
Retain votes at 16 for all Scottish elections
Implement a cross-party commission on improving how the Scottish Parliament operates and to improve Scottish Government scrutiny
Explore how to modernise the working practices of the Scottish Parliament to make them more suitable for MSPs with young families
Cut the cabinet from 12 to six members and freeze MSP and ministerial pay across the next parliament
Scottish Labour were the last of the main five parties in Scotland to launch their manifesto. Anas Sarwar’s party unveiled their policy priorities on Thursday 23 April and are hoping to take second place from the Scottish Conservatives. The party’s main proposals on Scottish democracy 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
Upgrade Holyrood is committed to improving representative democracy in Scotland. This blog supports a better voting system for the Scottish Parliament, an end to dual mandates and restrictions on second jobs for MSPs, a return to four-year parliamentary terms, more local democracy and a permanent hybrid parliament even after the pandemic ends, as well as more deliberative democracy where appropriate.
Only the Scottish Liberal Democrats commit to upgrading Scotland’s Additional Member System by replacing it with the Single Transferable Vote. However, it is worth noting that the Greens and the SNP do favour STV as a fairer alternative to AMS.
The Scottish Lib Dems are also the only party committing to a return to four-year parliamentary terms in order to improve frequent democratic accountability.
No parties have pledged to abolish dual mandates although as shown by dual mandate restrictions for Wales and Northern Ireland, this was done by the House of Commons highlighting that this would be a responsibility of Westminster. Therefore such a pledge would likely be out of the scope for manifestos for the Scottish Parliament. That said, the Scottish Lib Dems oppose dual mandates and the SNP’s Alyn Smith MP has proposed a bill on banning dual mandates from Westminster.
The parties all generally pledge to give more powers to local government or reform the way local government operates, which is most welcome, however, this varies from party to party.
Other welcome commitments include recall rules for MSPs in extreme cases (as proposed by the Lib Dems and the Conservatives), as well as more deliberative democracy in the form of citizens assemblies (the Lib Dems, Greens and SNP).
Overall, there are a range of welcome policy proposals from across the parties but whether they will be delivered remains to be seen.