Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Scottish Liberal Democrats

SUMMARY

  This response welcomes the statement by the former Secretary of State that the number of MSPs should remain at 129 and that the Scotland Act should be amended accordingly.

  It is pointed out that there are three options for amending the Scotland Act:

    —  Retain current Scottish Parliament constituencies and regions;

    —  Reduce the number of constituency MSPs to 60 and increasing the number of list MSPs to 69; and

    —  Introduce the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies for the Scottish Parliament elections.

  The main arguments in favour of STV are advanced and in particular the positive implications this would have for turnout and clarity for the electorate of voting systems.

  The paper recommends the introduction of STV for Scottish Parliament elections from 2007 as the best way of achieving coterminosity of Westminster and Scottish Parliament boundaries.

1.  INTRODUCTION

  The Scottish Liberal Democrats welcomed the statement made by Helen Liddell, when Secretary of State for Scotland, that the number of MSPs should remain at 129, when the number of Westminster constituencies are reduced to 59. We also welcomed the Government's intention, as stated by her, that the necessary legislation to amend the Scotland Act will be introduced at Westminster. We trust that the Scottish Affairs Committee's deliberations will be confined to how this decision will be implemented and that the question of the number of MSPs will not be re-examined. We also thank the Scottish Affairs Committee for this opportunity to put forward our views.

2.  OPTIONS FOR AMENDING THE SCOTLAND ACT

  We believe there are three options open to the Government and parliament in amending the Scotland Act.

  2.1  It could retain the current structure of 73 constituency MSPs and 56 list MSPs. This would create problems for political parties' organisational structure. The Scottish Liberal Democrats have already decided to retain our current structure based on Scottish Parliamentary constituency boundaries if this option were to be selected, but organisational problems would undoubtedly arise. Retention of the present structure might also confuse those voters living in different Westminster and Scottish Parliament constituencies.

  This would also require a separate Scottish parliament constituency and regional boundary review sometime in the not-too-distant future.

  2.2  It could reduce the number of constituency MSPs to 60, bringing the Scottish parliamentary constituencies into line with the new Westminster constituencies, (Orkney & Shetland having separate MSPs). Consequently the number of list MSPs would be increased to 69. This would allow for coterminosity between the Westminster and Scottish Parliament constituencies, reduce the likelihood of confusion among voters and also improve the proportionality achieved by the Added Members System But it would also require new boundaries to be drawn. Alternatively the increase in list numbers could be achieved by increasing the number of lists.

  This option is unlikely to be popular given the criticisms of the list system as it stands. There is a growing feeling that the system has created two types of MSP with constituency MSPs having a heavier load. This option would increase that load with larger constituencies and would also reduce the workload of list MSPs, with their numbers increased by 13.

  2.3  It could change the electoral system for the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections and introduce the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. The 59 new Westminster constituencies would form the building blocks for the multi-member constituencies. This would solve the co-terminosity problem.

  This is the option strongly favoured by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and we commend it to the Committee.

3.  ARGUMENTS FOR STV

  3.1  All MSPs would be elected in the same way and have the same responsibilities and workloads.

  3.2  A link would be maintained for all MSPs between themselves and constituencies, albeit larger multi-member seats.

  3.3  STV gives power to the voter rather than the party. The voter can choose between different candidates from the same party as well as from different parties. At the moment in "safe" single-member constituencies and for top of the regional list places, their parties effectively select the MSPs.

  3.4  A large majority of the voters will have voted for at least one of the successful candidates and will therefore feel that their views are taken account of and that their vote does count.

  3.5  The voter is allowed to express a preference both between parties and between candidates.

  3.6  The letter from the Committee requesting written evidence refers to "the implications for turnout at elections and clarity for the electorate of there being four separate voting systems in Scotland".

  3.6.1 The partnership agreement between Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats includes legislation to introduce STV in multi-member wards for the next diet of council elections scheduled for 2007. It would increase clarity for the electorate if the same system were to be used for the Scottish parliamentary and local elections, especially given that current legislation determines that they be held on the same day.

  3.6.2 We are firmly of the view that turnout is likely to increase when voters are required to exercise a much higher degree of choice than under the first past the post system. They will also see that their votes count—in many "safe" first past the post constituencies it is a foregone conclusion, which party will win and votes for any other party are "wasted". Many voters therefore take the attitude "why bother?"

4.  RECOMMENDATION

  For the above reasons, the Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that the Scottish Affairs Committee should recommend as a result of its inquiry the introduction of STV in multi-member constituencies, based on the 59 new Westminster constituencies.

October 2003


 
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