Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
4 NOVEMBER 2003
Q1 Chairman: Good afternoon, ladies
and gentlemen. Can I welcome you to the Scottish Affairs Select
Committee and thank you for your attendance and for your written
submissions that you sent to us today. Before we ask specific
questions, is there anything you would like to add or, if you
prefer, feel free at the end of the session to let me know that
you want to add something. Are you happy to continue?
Councillor McInnes: Yes.
Q2 Chairman: Can you tell me if you
think that the existing arrangements for elections to the Scottish
Parliament should have had time to bed down fully before the government
issued its consultation document on the size of the Scottish Parliament?
Mrs Quinn: As you know, the Scottish
Labour Party made a submission to the Secretary of State for Scotland's
consultation. A copy of that submission was sent as part of the
evidence. We felt that the Scottish Parliament had in its first
few years been developing its structures and we felt it should
remain the way it is to try to ensure some sort of stability.
In terms of the timing of the consultation, I do not think any
of us here were asked about it. Maybe it was more to do with other
issues that were ongoing but the Scottish Labour Party believes
that it should remain at 129 to try and get a bit of stability
Councillor McInnes: We felt that
it was the right time, coming at the same time as the boundary
review. As you know, we are in favour of the number being reduced
by the 13 because of the lack of coterminous boundaries. The time
to do it would be at the same time as the implementation of the
boundary review for Westminster constituencies.
Dr Barrie: It was necessary to
look at it because of the Westminster boundary requirements. We
have always strongly supported a reduction in the number of Scottish
Westminster MPs once the Scottish Parliament was in place. We
are fully with the Scottish Labour Party that 129 needs a few
more years. We do not necessarily agree that the present method
of electing is correct but we are in favour of retaining 129 if
for no other reason than the valuable work that is going on in
committees and they need that number of MSPs to person the committees.
Mr Thoms: The Scottish Nationalist
Party's position around the size of the Scottish Parliament initially,
when the Scotland Bill was going through Parliament and since,
has been that the additional numbers were incorrect and that the
system by which people could be elected was not correct either.
It is easier at the beginning to try and change things as quickly
as possible so that the electorate do not get confused. If something
is wrong, let us change it quickly and get it right.
Q3 Mr Carmichael: Can I take you
to the question of voting systems? From the submissions that you
have made, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National
Party are both broadly in favour of the single transferrable vote
within a multi-member constituency. The Labour Party seems a bit
less unambiguous and we know the history of the partnership agreement
in Scotland which is now moving towards the single transferable
vote for local elections. The Conservative Party in your submissions
lays a great deal of stress on the difficulties caused by a lack
of coterminosity. To what extent are we seeing an emerging consensus
that will end up with the single transferable vote for Scottish
Mrs Quinn: The Scottish Labour
Party does not have a view on any change to the method of electing
the Scottish Parliament other than what came out of the broad
consensus and we think that any changes that are made should come
out of, if not the same, a similar broad consensus.
Q4 Mr Carmichael: How do you see
the fostering of that consensus? Are we looking at a resurrection
of the Convention or some similar process?
Mrs Quinn: I do not think it is
a matter for the Scottish Labour Party to say how that should
be brought about. I have read in some newspaper somewhere about
some commission or something but I am not 100% sure on that. The
party's view at the moment is that if there is a change it should
come from the same broad consensus. Being involved in politics
in Scotland, if there are any changes, there tends to be the development
of one area or another.
Q5 Mr Carmichael: In order to achieve
a consensus everyone has to express a view in the first place.
I am not getting a sense that there is any view being expressed
by the Labour Party, which seems curious.
Mrs Quinn: No. The Scottish Labour
Party has not taken a view at this moment in time on any change
that should happen.
Dr Barrie: We have always been
consistent on STV. With STV about to be introduced for local elections
and the fact that you have elections to the Scottish Parliament
on the same day, it makes sense and answers the question of clarity
for the voters if you have the same system in use. I am probably
in the minority but I am one of those people who does approve
of having the local elections and the Scottish Parliament elections
on the same day. Because of the size of the turn-out, it gives
councillors as much legitimacy as the members of the Scottish
Councillor McInnes: Our feeling
is that an electoral system does need time to bed down. When you
are dealing with numbers of constituents, we are in favour of
a reduction. From the point of view of an electorate, to keep
a consistent electoral organisation and to keep a system of election
the same, it does need time to bed down and that means the additional
member system, which we oppose. We were in favour of a first past
the post system for the Scottish Parliament.
Q6 Mr Carmichael: You think continuity
is more important than dealing with the substantial problems of
coterminosity or the lack of it that you identify in your submission?
Councillor McInnes: I do not think
there is a consensus. We felt that coterminous boundaries were
very important and the SNP gave examples of other areas where
the boundaries were not coterminous and it did work well, so I
think there is a disagreement between us on the future of coterminous
boundaries. We feel very strongly that the Westminster constituency
structure should remain because it is something the electorate
can align with and identify with.
Mr Thoms: That has an interesting
impact on how you look at coterminosity around something like
the single transferable vote. If you were to take the proposed
new boundaries for a Westminster seat as the new multi-member
ward for, say, the Scottish Parliament you are only going to get
between two and three members which does not create a proportionate
form of election in the way that STV is meant to be used. It may
form one form of electoral mechanism but it is not something that
would be fair and is certainly not in the spirit of our party
policy that we have campaigned over a number of years to try and
achieve. Some concerns are starting to go round because of the
principles under which people want to see a fair system set outi.e.,
that members have a link to some sort of geographic area. There
is an acceptance increasingly that so long as people can identify
who is their member and how to contact them people do not have
a problem in terms of making contact and engaging with that member.
They have got used to eight Euro MEPs for the whole of Scotland
so the idea of getting used to four or five members for North
Glasgow, for South Glasgow, for Caithness or the Highlands I do
not think there will be a problem with. It gives the voters more
choice about who they want to go to with an issue.
Q7 Mr Carmichael: You envisage a
model which would have two or three Westminster constituencies
lumped together to get you the numbers which would ensure your
Mr Thoms: On the current proposed
boundaries, you would need at least two Westminster boundaries
to create a fair STV system. Then you are getting back into problems
of coterminosity. It would be clearer in some ways but coterminosity
with STV for the Scottish Parliament would also cause problems
because it would not be the same system and the same interpretation.
Q8 David Hamilton: One of the things
that has not been considered in any of the papers is an AV system
which is another type of proportional representation. From the
Labour Party point of view, what they see as the status quo is
what we have. There is an answer there. It might not suit the
Liberals but there is an answer. AV is a system which relates
to the link with the constituent or indeed the ward and it allows
the majority of people within a constituency to vote by majority
and the following day people waking up in their beds know who
is representing them, not a mish-mash of different people. I think
people like to know who represents them and who is accountable
to them so an AV system would be a far better system to look at
and surely that is something you should consider?
Dr Barrie: I disagree with that
completely. AV is not a proportional system and I am in favour
of a proportional system. It would be much better if we had STV
and people I think would choose to go to somebody of their own
political persuasion. Far more voters would have an MSP or an
MP of their political persuasion than at the moment because in
a lot of constituencies at the moment it is the party caucus or
the party executive that effectively picks the MP or the MSP.
Q9 Mr Weir: Mark talked about reducing
the numbers of MSPs in line with the Westminster reduction. How
does he see that impacting on the list system? Is the Tory position
to have fewer directly elected members and more list members in
the Scottish Parliament or are you looking for a complete overhaul
of the system?
Councillor McInnes: We did look
at reducing the number of additional members as well so that the
proportion of first past the post and additional members would
remain the same.
Q10 Mr Weir: That would not get round
the problem of coterminosity, would it?
Councillor McInnes: There is always
going to be a problem with coterminosity with the regions in Scotland.
The reason the Scotland Act will have to be amended quite soon
is because otherwise the Boundary Commission will have to start
redrawing the Scottish Parliamentary regions. If the Scotland
Act is to be amended and the number of MSPs elected from constituencies
is to remain the same, that will not happen. You are consistently
going to have a system where there are not going to be coterminous
regions as to parliamentary seats.
Q11 Mr Sarwar: The partnership agreement
between Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats includes
legislation to introduce STV in a multi-ward system for elections.
What is the point of the view of the Scottish Nationalists and
the Scottish Conservatives?
Mr Thoms: Our policy is very clear.
We favour the single transferable vote for the elections of local
government and the parliamentary side. The current Local Government
Bill we have yet to submit in terms of the consultation to the
Scottish Executive. We are clearly looking to have more members
elected per ward than is currently proposed. The three/four members
favours parties and individuals that can create a large vote.
That does not create the diversity of representation within local
government that could be achieved by having more members with
a larger geographical area. That ties into the discussion about
how STV could work in the Scottish Parliament system. Small, multi-member
wards create advantages for larger parties but disadvantages for
smaller parties. There is something about electors, if they are
given the same system. If STV is coming in for local government
in time, we are going to be faced with yet another different type
of electoral system being used possibly on the same day as list
constituency members being voted for. If we want to try and muddy
the water for electors even more, yes, let's have lots of different
systems and have them working so that electors either can get
to grips with them or change them to make them a bit more uniform.
Councillor McInnes: We have been
pretty consistent in that we would always favour directly elected,
first past the post members. Where we do well with the additional
member system, our natural choice is for people elected first
past the post. One of our main concerns over STV is the loss of
the representative value that MPs have now, where no matter whether
my MP is Labour I would go to that person if I had a problem.
It would be very sad if parties entered that relationship between
an MP and electors and the electors only felt they could go to
someone of the same party over an issue.
Dr Barrie: You are extending choice
and we are seeing this now under the AMS system where people go
to a regional list MSP of their own political persuasion rather
than their own constituency MSP and that often is just resulting
in duplication. If somebody does not like the answer they get
from the number one person on the list, they will go to the number
two or the number three.
Q12 David Hamilton: My experience
is that I think Derek talks rubbish because we have a position
where everybody knows who their MSP is. Very few people can name
their MSPs from the list system but we will agree to differ. Mark
makes a comment that I think most people would agree with. A straightforward
system has to go in. Could you expand on your views that coterminosity
would reduce confusion amongst voters or that coterminosity is
Mr Thoms: If you are an elector
in Rutherglen, you could have an issue with the Greater Glasgow
Health Board or with the Lanarkshire Economic Development Company
and you have an MP with a boundary that is coterminous with an
MSP but you also have nine other MSPs that you can go to for representation.
They also have one of eight Euro MEPs. They have a plethora of
people they can seek advice from. Nobody markets to electors how
they are supposed to find out who is their MP or MSP. The way
that we promote elected members to the electorate is sometimes
not as clever as it should be. That is something that we perhaps
need to take up that would overcome some of the issues in the
perception of whether the electorate understand who represents
them. At the moment, when something like the health board has
to do a consultation for that elector in Rutherglen, they have
numerous people to go and talk to but nobody has set down guidelines
about how boundaries, public bodies and electorates should be
trying to work together in terms of creating the coterminosity
that should be there. I personally believe that electors do not
find it a problem, once they find somebody. It may not be the
first point of call that tells them the correct person they should
talk to but once they are in the right direction for the person
they should be dealing with there is not really a problem in terms
of being served.
Q13 David Hamilton: I do not think
there are many people who know anybody on the health board so
it is not a good example to give. Surely two MSPs would be a good
thing so you would identify who your MSPs were and you would have
Mr Thoms: Maybe one of the simple
questions is why not commission some research to find out from
electors what their views are, rather than the vested interests
of political parties or other institutions within Scotland?
Mrs Quinn: It has moved on. Derek
made a point about people's point of call. Some of the evidence
I have of constituents going to elected representatives is sometimes
more to do with them not liking the answer they get from the first
one they go to.
Q14 Ann McKechin: I think there is
a feeling that perhaps in Scotland, since the Scottish Parliament
has come into place, there has been a different result in terms
of the difference between list and constituency members to that
experience in other European countries which have followed a similar
route of election in that the constituency MPs are predominantly
represented by the largest party in the Parliament and the list
system is largely represented by the minority parties. This has
caused a great deal of the friction which has existed between
list and constituency members as a result of the lack of protocols
between them and in turn between them and the Westminster representatives
and the council representatives. At Westminster we have a very
strict set of protocols in relation to who we can act for and
represent. Do you consider that, particularly if we are not going
to have coterminosity, there is a need to set out a series of
protocols in terms of how representatives act and how they deal
with cases between the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments?
Mr Thoms: The Scottish Parliament
certainly had some teething problems in terms of the relationship
between constituency MPs and list MSPs, but a number of those
issues are starting to bed down. They have had to. There is a
very clear relationship between MSPs and MPs because you have
a certain remit in terms of what you can and cannot act on, on
behalf of the electorate. In terms of whether the geography changes,
in terms of overlap between where someone might live and who might
represent them, those issues that may arise should arise just
now because of the remit of what the elected members are able
to act on as opposed to what the new geography might be. There
are probably still some areas in the Scottish Parliament's working
that could be improved upon in terms of protocol. I still hear
the odd grumble from MSPs of different political persuasions about
how they would like to see things improved and by all means let's
have a debate on that issue. Changing the number of Westminster
MPs in relation to Scottish MSPs should not make a difference
in terms of how protocols have been developed so far.
Dr Barrie: I think protocols are
essential if you have the MS system, but again I come back to
my main point. It is a system that seems to create two different
types of MSP. If you have all MSPs elected under the same system,
then you do not have any need for protocols. There is still a
lot of friction between constituency MSPs and some list MSPs,
especially some of the newer list MSPs.
Councillor McInnes: I would agree
with Grant that it has bedded down. The two classes of MSP come
to a degree from what the electorate do. Their first point of
call is still the constituency, geographical MSP because they
know who the MSP for Paisley North is and that is still fundamental
in the psyche of the electorate.
Mrs Quinn: The Scottish Labour
Party agrees there should be some sort of protocol. Part of that
protocol should have a minimum standard for the elected representative,
carrying out their statutory duties because it makes it a bit
clearer for the elected representative but, more importantly,
for the constituent who is raising a concern or issue that they
Q15 Mr Duncan: I am interested in
this idea of protocols. A protocol surely is a means of controlling
behaviour? For those three representatives of the parties who
are part of that consensus on AMS, has AMS worked in a way which
you would expect?
Dr Barrie: I do not think it has.
I do not think we knew how it would work. We agreed to it very
reluctantly in order to get an agreement and we pressed STV as
much as we possibly could. We do not know how it is developing
now. This is the first time for this new Parliament, with so many
minority parties with list MSPs and it is far too soon to see
what effect that is going to have overall. So far, I have been
surprised at the lack of impact of the new MSPs of the minority
parties, apart from a sudden rush of things in the first two or
three days when they were elected, but I have not heard a lot
since. We will have to see how that develops. I do not think anybody
expected it to work out exactly the way it has.
Q16 Mr Duncan: If we are talking
about introducing protocols, that surely means the behaviour has
not been as you expected; otherwise the protocols would have been
in place when we started.
Dr Barrie: There was talk very
early on in the previous Parliament of 1999 about protocols. Without
naming names of parties because I think all parties were involved,
there were people who seemed to be shadowing a particular constituency
and acting as the second MSP for that constituency. Some of that
did get to the presiding officer and was looked at. Even then,
I think some kind of protocol was required.
Councillor McInnes: The additional
member system has been shaped in many areas by the individuals
involved. Some additional members have been very proactive in
certain constituencies. Some have been very proactive on a regional
basis. I think that is true throughout Scotland and it is true
of all our parties. There have been different experiences throughout
Scotland as well.
Mr Thoms: When the Scottish Parliament
was being thought through in terms of how it was going to work,
people had not thought through enough what the implications were
of an additional member system. It is one of the reasons why we
advocated for a single transferable vote to be used at the Scottish
Parliament in the very beginning because we had looked at AMS
working in other countries. It is a second preference in terms
of how people can be elected. At that time, I am sure we made
known our views on the problems that could arise from having an
AMS system, particularly where there had been no historical experience
of this type of electoral system in the United Kingdom. Since
then, people have had to get to grips with how that system works.
If the protocols help in order to create some sort of harmony
and working relationship with MSPs to carry out their work hopefully
to the betterment of their electorate, that is a good thing. In
many ways, I would suggest that the protocols arose because people
had not thought through at the beginning how the Parliament would
work in practice.
Mrs Quinn: I do not think anybody
could have foreseen at the beginning some of the tensions that
developed between list MSPs and the constituency MSPs. There was
a situation where people were being shadowed and issues were being
cherry picked. I think if it clears the matter up for the constituent
then it is the right thing to do.
Q17 Mr Sarwar: Presumably, all the
political parties in Scotland are in favour of reducing the number
of Westminster constituencies in Scotland but are you in favour
of retaining the number of MSPs at 129?
Dr Barrie: Yes. The committee
system seems to be working very well in the Scottish Parliament
and any time there is talk of reducing the numbers of committees
people claim that that will greatly increase the workload.
Councillor McInnes: To make up
the shortfall in committees, we would see the Scottish Parliament
working longer days rather than the present timetable to make
up for those lost members.
Mr Thoms: I do not think it is
any secret that we would like to see the reduction of MPs at Westminster
to zero. When it comes to the number of Scottish Parliament Members,
certainly 129 has been the minimum working arrangement, and experience
has shown that, in terms of the committee structure, it has been
important to keep to that sort of level. However, if it came to
looking at changes in terms of how Members are elected, we should
not be hung up on the number 129 specifically; we should have
something around that area, but that is workable, and if it means
increasing it to 135 or dropping it to 128, that should not be
a problem. If you are looking at something that creates coterminosity
to a certain degree, let us be flexible around that specific number,
but 129, under the current system, should be held as being something
that creates a decent operating system, both for Members and for
Mrs Quinn: The Scottish Labour
Party's position at the moment is that the Scottish Parliament
should remain at 129, and that has more to do with the stability
of the Parliament in the first term, because there are a number
of issues, and we believe there should be a full term to try and
get some stability.
Q18 Mr Lyons: All of you have referred
to the importance of bedding down the Parliament and allowing
it to function and so on. If it is based on the committee structure,
if you had more committees, would you argue to increase the number
Dr Barrie: Only if you had proper
scrutiny of all the work done, some sort of commission or inquiry
into all the work done in the committees, and see if you needed
to change your committee structure. You could only do that if
you had an in-depth look. If you waited eight years to do that,
it would be so much better. You would have had all the bedding
down and so on. The answer to your question is: it could be.
David Hamilton: Chairman, just an observation.
Every party answered in the same way, ie that to keep the Parliament
functioning properly requires 129. Not one mention was made about
representation of the people. Does it require 129 to have that
representation of the people? It does not.
Q19 Mr Carmichael: I am very interested
in what Mark said about cutting the number of MSPs and that you
could work longer days. Would you give us a bit more detail of
Councillor McInnes: It responds
to the argument that the committee structure at present in the
Scottish Parliament relies on 129 MSPs. Perhaps fewer MSPs could
actually do more to keep that committee structure functioning,
keep that stability there. A number of MSPs are not working the
same committee hours as Members are in this House.