Sign the petition to replace the Scottish Parliament’s voting system with a more proportional alternative

By Richard Wood

Upgrade Holyrood strongly supports improving Scotland’s broadly proportional but flawed Additional Member System (AMS), currently used to elect Members of the Scottish Parliament.

This is why I have started an official Scottish Parliament petition to replace AMS with a more representative alternative.

The petition is officially entitled PE1901: Replace the voting system for the Scottish Parliament with a more proportional alternativeand can be signed here.

Sign the petition to upgrade Scotland’s voting system now.

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to replace the broadly proportional, but flawed, Additional Member System (AMS) used for electing MSPs with a more proportional alternative.

AMS results in more representative parliaments than FPTP used in Westminster but it is not fully proportional. It also results in two classes of MSPs, limits voter choice and can be exploited by decoy parties.

Alternatives such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) or Open List PR, would empower voters and lead to more representative parliaments.

PE1901

Reasoning behind the petition

The Additional Member System has done well to ensure broadly proportional parliaments but it does have some serious flaws, the full details of which can be read below.

READ MORE: The flaws of AMS and the need for better PR at Holyrood

This petition makes the case for an alternative system to replace AMS. I recognise that different individuals and parties back different alternatives, which is why I have kept the proposed alternative open and reasonably vague to help build a broad coalition for voting reform in Scotland.

For example, the Scottish Lib Dems and SNP favour the Single Transferable Vote (used for local authority elections in Scotland, as well as national elections in Ireland and Malta) while the Scottish Greens now support an Open List PR system (like those used in Denmark and Iceland) but have supported STV in the past.

Earlier this year, Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser MSP broke party ranks and called for reform, highlighting STV as a possible alternative.

In terms of non-party support, the Electoral Reform Society has long supported the Single Transferable Vote while Ballot Box Scotland, who does an incredible job of covering and analysing Scottish electoral politics, favours and Open List PR system with levelling seats.

READ MORE: Scottish Conservative MSP calls for electoral reform at Holyrood

The route to electoral reform in Scotland

Changing the voting system at Holyrood requires a two-thirds majority rather than a simple 50%+1 majority as with most votes.

The Scottish Lib Dems were the only party in the parliament to propose changing the voting system in their 2021 manifesto but with the SNP and Scottish Greens in favour of a change in principle, as well as at least one Scottish Conservative MSP behind the idea, there is a possible route to reform.

The two-thirds rule would therefore mean that 86 MSPs would be required for supporting any reform. Together, the SNP (64 seats), the Scottish Greens (7 seats) and the Scottish Lib Dems (4 seats) fall short of that number with a combined total of 75 seats. Even with Murdo Fraser there would be just 76 MSPs in favour of reform.

The Scottish Conservatives are unlikely to back any reform overall due to their long-standing opposition to reform at Westminster. Any moves to supporting reform would lead to calls of hypocrisy if they continued to favour the archaic First Past the Post voting system at Westminster.

The best hope is getting additional support from Scottish Labour who have no position on changing the voting system. That said, there is certainly a route to reform through Scottish Labour who could definitely be persuaded to back reform if the idea gained momentum.

Other hurdles include the the fact that electoral reform is not high on the political agenda and there are different schools of thought on what to replace AMS with as previously mentioned.

Nonetheless, it is important to shift the conversation on this issue, which is why I have lodged the petition.

Please consider adding your name to begin an active conversation about the flaws of AMS and a real discussion on alternatives that provide for better representation.

The petition can be signed here.

READ MORE: 12 reasons the UK needs Proportional Representation now

The MSPs who hold dual mandates following the 2021 election

The term dual mandate refers to the situation where a politician holds two elected positions. For example, this can include an MP that is also an MSP or an MSP who is also a councillor. Although unelected, members of the House of Lords with additional mandates are also included in this categorisation.

Dual mandates are ultimately unfair on constituents. Citizens in a democracy deserve full-time representatives not part-timers. The practice has been banned for Members of the European Parliament, as well as for Members of the Welsh Parliament and for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Upgrade Holyrood has outlined the main reasons against dual mandates here.

Dual mandate holders have existed in every Scottish Parliament. The SNP, Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have all been guilty of this practice, and while parties have moved away from supporting it at a parliamentary level (that is to say dual mandate MSP-MPs), the current Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross currently holds both roles having gone into the 2021 election with the explicit intention of holding a dual mandate.

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

After the 6 May election, there were at least 16 dual mandate holders. A full list of these MSPs is included below although the information may be incomplete.

The vast majority of dual mandates holders are MSP-councillors with the exception being Douglas Ross (also and MSP) and Katy Clark (a member of the House of Lords).

As discussed elsewhere on this site, with council elections one year away and councillors only part-time positions, there is less of a case for abolishing dual mandates than there is for MSP-MPs. However, they are still somewhat problematic and should be addressed in some form. It appears that only one MSP-Councillor has resigned from their council role since the 2021 election.

All the dual mandate holders are newly elected MSPs who gained their dual mandate status upon election to the Scottish Parliament in May.

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

Dual mandate holders since the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election

Karen Adam (SNP) – newly elected MSP for Banffshire and Buchan coast. Upon election as an MSP she was a councillor for the Mid-Formartine ward for Aberdeenshire Council. At the end of May 2021, she announced her resignation as Councillor. A by-election will be held on 19 August. Adam appears to be the only MSP to have resigned her council role.

Siobhian Brown (SNP) – newly elected MSP for Ayr. Elected in 2017 as a Councillor for Ayr West (South Ayrshire Council). She is still listed on the council website as a councillor and there has been no news about a resignation (as at 9 August 2021)

Stephanie Callaghan (SNP) – MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill and councillor for Hamilton North and East ward on South Lanarkshire Council. Currently holds a dual mandate (as at 9 August 2021).

Katy Clarke (Lab) – MSP for West Scotland and member of the House of Lords. Clarke declared that she would stand down from the House of Lords if elected as an MSP. She is still listed as a life peer on the official Parliment website. This implies that she remains a peer but won’t be attending any meetings of the House of Lords.

Natalie Don (SNP) – MSP for Renfrewshire North and a councillor for Renfrewshire (Bishopton Bridge of Weir and Langbank). Don remains a councillor according to the council’s website.

Jackie Dunbar (SNP) – MSP for Aberdeen Donside and Aberdeen City councillor. Dunbar remains a councillor and has said she will donate her councillor salary to charity.

Meghan Gallacher (Con) – MSP for Central Scotland and North Lanarkshire councillor. She remains a councillor according to the council website and her Twitter page.

Craig Hoy (Con) – MSP for South Scotland and Cllr for Haddington and Lammermuir Ward. He remains a councillor according to his Twitter and the council website.

Douglas Lumsden (Con) – MSP for North East Region and Councillor for Aberdeen City Council (Airyhall, Broomhill and Garthdee). He has said he will remain a councillor to avoid the cost of a by-election and that he will donate his council salary to charity.

Michael Marra (Lab) – MSP for North East and Dundee City councillor for Lochee ward. He remains a councillor according to the council website and his Twitter page.

Paul McLennan (SNP) – MSP for East Lothian and Councillor for the Dunbar and East Linton ward (East Lothian council). McLennan remains a councillor according to the council website.

Audrey Nicoll (SNP) – MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine and Aberdeen City Councillor for the Torry/Ferryhill ward. She won her council seat in a 2019 by-election and remains a councillor.

Paul O’Kane (Labour) – MSP for West Scotland and Councillor for Newton Mearns North & Neilston (East Renfrewshire). Currently holds a dual mandate.

Emma Roddick (SNP) – MSP for Highlands and Islands and Inverness Central councillor (Highland Council). Roddick won her council seat and remains a councillor.

Douglas Ross (Conservative) – MSP for the Higjland region and MP for Moray. Ross currently holds both roles and is the only MSP-MP dual mandate holder.

Colette Stevenson (SNP) – MSP for East Kilbride and South Lanarkshire councillor. Stevenson remains a councillor.

READ MORE: 5 REASONS TO BAN DUAL MANDATES

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

Scottish election manifestos: democratic reform pledges compared

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?

Scottish Greens

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

Scottish Labour

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

Analysis

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.

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.

5 reasons to ban MSP-MP dual mandates

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.

Read more about dual mandates here.

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.

4. Dual mandates could lead to corruption

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.

READ MORE: Patterns of dual mandates in Scotland since 1999

The route to a dual mandate ban in Scotland

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.

The full Upgrade Holyrood report on dual mandates is coming soon. Watch this space.

Sources:

Navarro, J. (2009). Multiple Office-Holders in France and in Germany: An Elite Within the Elite. SFB 580 Mitteilungen 33(1): 6–56. Access here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322854700_Multiple-Office_Holders_in_France_and_in_Germany_An_Elite_Within_the_Elite

Van de Voorde, N. and de Vet, B., 2020. Is All Politics Indeed Local? A Comparative Study of Dual Mandate‐Holders’ Role Attitudes and Behaviours in Parliament. Swiss Political Science Review, 26(1), pp.51-72. Access here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/spsr.12388