Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39|
4 NOVEMBER 2003
Q20 Mr Carmichael: So you are thinking
of moving to a situation where you would be finishing at 10 o'clock,
as we do here on a Monday, for example?
Councillor McInnes: Not necessarily.
Q21 Mr Carmichael: What do you have
in mind? That is what I am trying to tease out.
Councillor McInnes: Yes, the committee
work would be done with fewer Members.
Dr Barrie: Is your thinking of
extending the hours of the Scottish Parliament, not influenced
by the fact that most Conservative Members are list Members, and
do not have the very large constituency workload that many of
the other Members have.
Q22 Chairman: Can I play devil's
advocate for a minute? Nobody seemed to say much about the reduction
of numbers at Westminster. Half of the workload of Westminster
went to Edinburgh, and in fact, it was a workload that was done
in one hour a month here at that time. That was part of the argument,
that we could not do all of the work, the work was not being done
at all because we did not have the time. Now that we are short
of that one hour, we only need 59 Members, but to do that one
hour's work that we had in a month, Edinburgh needs 129. Can anybody
give me their observations on that?
Mr Thoms: If you look at the Bills
that have gone through the Scottish Parliament in four years,
Scotland has been better served in terms of legislation, policy
and executive scrutiny than was ever achieved through Westminster
in the previous 40 years. If we are going to make comments about
the level of what an MP or an MSP does in terms of quality of
work, more so in terms of quantity of time that is put in here
and in terms of debate time, there needs to be a more sensible
approach to how we review this, because I do not think Westminster
served Scotland well in terms of the decision-making that could
be achieved. The UK as a whole could be better served by bringing
decisions closer to people rather than being centralised in London.
The British Government's view around devolving further powers
to the regions of England exemplifies that. You need to put it
in the context of why we had a Scottish Parliament in the first
Councillor McInnes: Our position
is dictated by the fact that the reduction of Members of Parliament
was a response to some degree to the West Lothian question, and
we still feel it is important that Scotland's over-representation,
which was there because of the unique situation of Scotland, was
not needed any more because of the Scottish Parliament.
Dr Barrie: I have nothing to add.
I agree entirely with what Grant said.
Mrs Quinn: The Scottish Labour
Party accepts that the reduction is there at Westminster. If I
could respond to a point that Mark made about the committees,
I do not think I can let the point go that the committees should
be allowed to work, even if they have to work late. At that time
of night I am preparing the school uniform and the packed lunch
for the next day, and I think if those were to be the working
conditions, that would prevent quite a number of people putting
themselves forward for elected positions.
Councillor McInnes: I would add
to that that, in many ways, the model that somehow Westminster
is one of the best parliamentary democracies and has the best
working practice and is something that we should replicate in
Scotland is something which should be challenged.
Q23 Mr Duncan: I am interested in
the question that reality had not turned out exactly as we anticipated
it, yet what seems clear from three of the representatives is
that 129 is cast in stone. Surely, 129 was a number that was picked
back in 1997-98, and I cannot understand this hard and fast rule.
That there are too many politicians in Scotland is a view that
is certainly put to me by a lot of people on the streets in Scotland
at the moment. Why is that not something that could be revisited?
Dr Barrie: I do not think the
129 is cast necessarily in stone, but once you set up a system,
you surely have to give it a reasonable amount of time to bed
down and to have a proper inquiry into how it is running and so
forth. Therefore, I would think 129 should sensibly last for at
least two parliaments, and possibly three.
Q24 Mr Duncan: Perhaps this might
answer Mark's point about the committees: we now have two Justice
Committees in the Scottish Parliament; that was not anticipated
at the start. Why is it we can evolve in one direction but not
in the other?
Dr Barrie: I am not clear what
you mean by that.
Q25 Mr Duncan: We seem to be evolving
to an ever greater size of the Scottish Parliament and a greater
structure. We never seem to go back to the roots of the Scotland
Act, which said the number of MSPs could reduce, and the Parliament
could still work effectively.
Dr Barrie: You have to let Parliament
last two terms, if not three terms, and then review; you do not
suddenly chop and change after only one term.
Q26 Mr Lyons: There is an acceptance
that we need 129 because of the committee structure. Everyone
has hinted at that in some way. If you increase the number of
committees, by logic, you need to increase the number of MSPs.
What is your attitude to that?
Dr Barrie: Do you need to increase
the number of committees? Do you not just change the remits? You
might find some committees where the workload could be increased
and others where the workload is too much. At some pointPeter's
pointyou might get a situation where you might do away
with a committee if it is found that over four, six, eight years
its work could easily go to another committee, without any great
loss. But you can only do these things after you have had enough
experience and have the ability to look back at what has happened.
Q27 Chairman: Is it possible that
the committee structure is wrong?
Mr Thoms: The committees have
been slimmed down since the Parliament was formed. There were
more committees in the first year of the Parliament than there
were in the last year of the first session, and that was through
working practices, accepting that Members were being spread and
having to cover too many committees, and were not given enough
time to balance committee work, constituency work and parliamentary
debate. The practice and the experience in the Scottish Parliament
has already been that we have the right number of committees working
now, but we had more to begin with and we did not have enough
Members to service the larger number of committees. The answer
to that question has been the experience of the first term of
the Scottish Parliament.
Q28 Mr Lyons: You have made the point
as well that there might well be a continual devolution of power.
You are not going to accept that without further committees or
further extension of your work, I am sure.
Mr Thoms: Personally, I would
like to see full powers returned to the Scottish Parliament in
terms of things that are currently reserved to the UK, and yes,
I would see a proportionate number of Members of the Scottish
Parliament to make it workable for the increased workload that
is therenot to say 600, but even 200 might cover the whole
of Scotland in terms of the full powers that a Scottish Parliament
could be looking at. If you would like to tell me more about the
powers you think might be devolved, that would give us a better
idea of how to plan and how many members we would like to propose
for that Parliament.
Q29 Mr Lyons: I just think there
is a problem in that we fly in the face of the views of the public.
They do not feel that 129 needs to be extended or even maintained.
The people I meet say the opposite.
Mrs Quinn: I think there ismaybe
I should not say this in this placea general cynicism about
politicians no matter what Parliament it is that you represent.
To go back, the Scottish Labour Party's position about remaining
at 129 to ensure stability is more that we just do not feel there
should be a change. It is just about stability.
Q30 Mr Weir: If the parliaments are
evolving, it may be that a reduction at Westminster is the answer
to increases in Edinburgh, should there be a change in the powers
of the Parliament. I do not see any particular problem with that.
Dr Barrie: Mr Lyons talks about
what he hears from people. I hear from people that "Oh, everything
is now done in Edinburgh. Why do we need even 59 MPs in Westminster?
Surely a dozen is enough?"
David Hamilton: Chairman, there is a
logical part to the point that Derek is making, and I understand
that. I do not have a big issue in relation to 129, but if it
is true that it takes two terms, maybe even three, to review what
is required in Scotland, is it also true that it might require
two terms or three terms before you make a change in Westminster?
It must be the same.
Q31 Mr Sarwar: Do you understand
that reducing the number of Westminster constituencies and Westminster
MPs will reduce the influence of Scotland in Britain? What will
the consequences of this be?
Councillor McInnes: I would say
that the reduction gives Scotland parity with the rest of the
Q32 Mr Sarwar: To 59, but what about
a further reduction?
Councillor McInnes: Yes, we would
lose that parity. That is quite right.
Dr Barrie: I would think that
is only likely to happen if more powers are devolved to the Scottish
Parliament. Otherwise, we would have geographical parity throughout
Chairman: We are moving on now to implications
for the electoral system and turn-out.
Q33 Mr Duncan: In the evidence that
was supplied to the Committee, one of the fundamental differences
in the evidence was between the Scottish Labour Party and the
Scottish Conservative Party, the Labour Party saying that effectively
coterminosity need not be a problem in terms of how you administer
and organise the political process in Scotland, and the Scottish
Conservative Party saying that this is likely to lead to problems
and is another hurdle to overcome in the electoral process. Could
you just expand on your reasons for that evidence, and perhaps
the Committee could form a judgment as to exactly which views
carry the greatest weight.
Mrs Quinn: I think you will see
from my evidence that I talk about the Scottish Labour Party organisation,
and whilst it is desirable to have coterminous boundaries, at
this moment in time, with the proposed changes, the fact is that
the Scottish Labour Party supports 129 remaining as the size of
the Scottish Parliament, the fact that there is no evident change
in the way in which MSPs will be elected, and by accepting that
the Westminster boundaries, the constituencies will be reduced
then. Because of that, you do have boundaries that are not coterminous.
My submission related to the Scottish Labour Party's organisation.
What I would just add to that is that the difference in boundaries
has been evident previously, with previous parliamentary boundary
changes and with local government reorganisation, when boundaries
Q34 Mr Duncan: Just to clarify, because
it is an important point, your view is that it is desirable to
have coterminous boundaries?
Mrs Quinn: I am speaking in terms
of how I would organise the Scottish Labour party, the Labour
Party structures, and it would make my job an awful lot easier
if we had that.
Q35 Mr Duncan: So the view of the
Scottish Labour Party is that coterminous boundaries would be
Mrs Quinn: Within the Labour Party's
Mr Thoms: In many ways I do not
think it is for a political party to decide or influence the nature
of the boundaries to suit their needs. We need to respond according
to what Parliament or the Boundary Commission has decided is the
best way of representing the electorate, and we should change
our organisation to fit that need.
Councillor McInnes: Ideally, we
would all agree with Lesley and we would like terms that make
our lives easier. Our main concern though is for the electorate,
and to avoid confusion for the electorate. In Scotland we have
a very strong tradition throughout the UK of constituencies, and
people identifying with a constituency, and going on to turn-out,
I think people identifying with a constituency gives the electorate
far more ownership of their elected Member. It pushes up turn-out.
We have seen in a number of constituencies in Scotland where it
has been a tight election, the turn-out has increased because
people knew it was marginal and they cared desperately about who
represented that area in Parliament. Many of these issues would
be lost and confused in the eyes of the electorate if you did
not have coterminous boundaries, because you have two different
boundaries for two different parliaments, both of which the electorate
Dr Barrie: I agree with that.
There is no doubt that, if we do not have coterminosity, there
will be far more problems for the party hacks amongst us than
for other people. Try to explain to somebody selecting candidates,
"You live in the Prestonfield ward in Edinburgh and you select
a candidate for Edinburgh South for the Scottish Parliament, but
you do not select a candidate for Edinburgh South but for Edinburgh
South West for Westminster." Those are the sort of practical
problems on the ground that will take up a lot of our time trying
to sort out, with people on the phone complaining, not sure of
where they are.
Q36 Mr Duncan: Just to summarise
the difference between the Scottish Conservative Party and the
Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative's Party's view
is that non-coterminous boundaries would be a disadvantage in
terms of how you represent the people in the electoral process,
and the Scottish Labour Party's view is that non-coterminous boundaries
are pragmatically just going to have to be accepted because you
want to achieve what we want to achieve.
Mrs Quinn: No. My response relates
to the Labour Party's organisation. I do not actually think I
am qualified or that I have seen enough evidence that relates
to an effect on the electorate. I am not sure that the difference
in the boundaries has such an effect. I am here as General Secretary
of the Scottish Labour Party speaking about Scottish Labour Party
organisation, and it would be desirable.
Q37 Mr Duncan: Can I clarify the
position then: do you think that different boundaries will help
the electoral process?
Mrs Quinn: As I said, I am speaking
about the Scottish Labour Party organisation and the structures
that are there, and I feel I am just qualified to speak about
Q38 Mr MacDougall: I was going to
ask a question later on regarding the effects on party organisation,
but we seem to have moved into that, so just to touch on that
a little more strongly, in relation to your response, each of
you have given an opinion on what the impact on the party organisation
would be. I take the point that, obviously, it should not be about
party; it should be about the public, and goodness knows I feel
sorry for the public already, with the confusion that they have
to put up with in terms of continual change to boundaries, etc.
Is it helpful therefore, in your opinion, to have an easier system
for you as party organisers, so as to be able to deliver a clearer
message to the public? Would it not help to relieve some of the
confusion if you had coterminous boundaries, in relation to the
point the Labour Party made?
Councillor McInnes: Yes, it would,
because it would mean we had a clear, local, geographically based
constituency organisation, delivering a local message that will
relate directly to that electorate in keeping that message localised.
Inevitably, when you do not have coterminous boundaries, there
are going to be, as Derek said, grey areas round the edges, in
some cases quite dramatic grey areas because the boundaries can
be quite different. In some constituencies the Scottish Parliament
will completely disappear to meet the electoral model. There will
no longer be a constituency. So I think there is a big job for
the parties and it creates a great problem for the parties in
getting a message at the Scottish parliamentary level.
Dr Barrie: I have nothing to add.
I am in total agreement with what Mark says. We are going to have
real headaches over this. We have already decided as a party that
we are going to keep our organisation based on the Scottish Parliament
constituencies, but it will still create real problems for selection
of candidates and so on for Westminster. As John MacDougall says,
we have to see what is best for the voter, and I still think that
STV, which brings two or three of the new Westminster constituencies
together as a building block for a multi-member seat, is probably
Mr Thoms: I do not think the party
organisation should be the key factor in deciding on things like
coterminosity. Parties generally have to work across boundaries
for things like local government elections, for the European elections.
They have to work in different ways to meet different elections
and yes, it might be inconvenient that Westminster and the Scottish
Parliament elections have something similar in terms of structure,
but political parties have to be more and more fluid about how
they evolve to meet changes in how elections are fought. The boundaries
in the end become a small part of how a party organises. The big
difference that affects how the party organises I would suggest
is around how winnable they think a seat has become since the
changes, where they have to build on success at Scottish Parliament
level, whether it can be replicated at Westminster, that sort
of thing. To respond to Mr Duncan's question about turn-out, turn-out
only held up, or slightly fell less than other areas where there
was a more marginal seat and where votes actually counted. The
current system of constituency first past the post voting results
in a number of people thinking their vote does not count, because
the vast majority of seats in the UK, not just in Scotland, are
seen as safe seats for one particular party because of geographically
spread support. Unless you can break it up in a way that people
can feel that their vote is actually worth something, then we
might see a turnaround in terms of turn-out increasing when people
feel their vote actually counts.
Mrs Quinn: I have said that it
will cause difficulties for the party organisation, but we will
meet those challenges.
Q39 Ann McKechin: As I understand
it, for most of the parties the new Westminster boundary will
form the main organisation unit for your local partiesit
may or may notbut clearly in many cases, certainly for
the Labour Party, and presumably for the Conservative Party, the
local party unit is the most powerful factor in terms of selection
of candidates. The one thing which the Scottish Parliament has
achieved, to their credit, is a better degree of gender balance
than has occurred at Westminster. If we end up with parties having
a party unit which is based on the Westminster boundaries, where
constituencies are predominantly represented by men, do you think
it will make it more difficult for female members to achieve selection
in the Scottish Parliament, where they have to run between various
different party units to elicit support?
Dr Barrie: That is relevant to
us in that the way we operate is the other way round; we will
have the Scottish Parliament constituencies as our local party
Councillor McInnes: Much as I
would like to find another reason for coterminous boundaries,
100% of our members choose, so it would be the same members who
are choosing for both. If they are going to choose a woman or
a man, it is the same people who are doing it, so I do not really
think the way the new boundaries are drawn is going to make a
Mr Thoms: In many ways, the strength
of our party is going to be in the branches, not in the constituency
or campaign committees that may be set up to fight particular
elections for Westminster or Scotland or Europe. It is going to
be at a level that is much closer to people in terms of how people
are organised and how members can become involved in local issues.
That is what is going to determine a lot of people being involved
in political parties and taking part in the process. Most modern
political parties are looking to OMOV as a way of becoming involved
in selecting a candidate, so gone are the days of constituency
delegates deciding for the electorate locally who their MP or
MSP might be. In terms of the gender issue, I personally would
like to see more positive action and support mechanisms to increase
the number of women, people from ethnic minorities, and disabled
people becoming involved in political parties and becoming elected,
particularly in my own party, and that is something that we can
look at every time there is a change in terms of the electoral
system. Certainly, single transferrable vote gives the choice
to the electorate to decide who will be their representatives
and they will decide the gender balance of the Parliament rather
than the parties. That is where we can do our bit to put forward
a balance of men, women, people from different backgrounds, creating
the diversity that Parliament should have, but really it is the
electorate who should have the choice and should make the decision
as to who will be the elected members.
Mrs Quinn: Our constitutional
unit, constituency party association, whatever, will be based
on Westminster, but as you know, the new Labour Party does already
elect its candidates through OMOV, and we have done for a number
of years now, and I am quite proud of the fact that we put in
place mechanisms to ensure that we did get a high number of women
selected, who then obviously put themselves forward to the electors
and to the Scottish Parliament.