Scotland’s council representation most undemocratic in the EU, campaign group says

Alasdair Clark

A leading democracy campaign group has warned of a democratic deficit in Scottish local authorities

A CRISIS OF REPRESENTATION is facing local authorities, a leading democracy campaign group has warned in response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on electoral reform. 

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) also rejected Westminster intentions to introduce voter ID, claiming it could disenfranchise some of the most disadvantaged groups in society. 

In its response to the Scottish Government’s electoral reform consultation, the campaign said electoral reform and government plans to consult on changes to local government structures should be treated as one “holistic package to revitalise Scottish democracy from the ground up”.

READ MORE: Politics for the Many to campaign for “root and branch reform” of British politics 

The ERS also made suggestions on voting innovation to increase voter engagement, suggesting that weekend voting be introduced to maximise turnout.

However, the group said it did have reservations about a move to online voting due to concerns over security risks and access to the internet for deprived households.

Willie Sullivan, senior director at ERS Scotland, said: “Participation should be the cornerstone of electoral reform and it is vital we make elections as accessible as possible while ensuring security.

“The changes we have proposed in our response to the consultation seek to make Scottish democracy fit for the 21st century – and end the injustice of citizens being underrepresented, unheard and alienated from our politics.

“However, this consultation on electoral reform must work seamlessly with the forthcoming review of local governance. It is unfortunate that these two interwoven elements have been siloed. Let’s look at our politics holistically, and seize the opportunity to build a 21st century democracy from the ground up.”

“It is vital we make elections as accessible as possible while ensuring security.” Willie Sullivan, ERS director

Sullivan said Westminster plans to introduce mandatory voter identification would be a “disaster”, claiming some 7.5 per cent of the UK population could be depirved of their right to vote due to not holding any ID.

He said: “It is believed that around 7.5 per cent of the electorate do not hold photo ID and would therefore be deprived of their democratic right to vote should this heavy-handed policy be enforced.

“They are among the most disadvantaged groups in society – those who don’t drive or enjoy holidays abroad and risk being further marginalised by these damaging proposals.

“It is clear any plan to impose voter ID would be both unwelcome and against public interest and we would support Scottish Government efforts to oppose it. Let’s not turn back the clock on political equality,” Sullivan said.

On local authority reform, the campaigners have called for smaller council wards with more members: “Currently Scotland is the least democratic country in the European Union in terms of representation at council-level with just one in every 4,270 people an elected politician. 

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“Smaller council wards with more members – within a new ‘grassroots’ branch of local government – would help transform councillors from points of complaint to active community builders and facilitators. 

“Local councils are the building block of a democratic Scotland and the Scottish Government is reviewing separately how it works, via its Local Governance Review, and how it is elected, via the Electoral Reform Consultation. 

“It is vital that these two processes become one at some point soon. This is a historic opportunity to strengthen our democracy to see us through stormy times.”

Electoral Reform Society Scotland says the lack of local representation means that voters up and down the country are being short-changed, with too few representatives defending the interests of cities, towns and villages.

The campaigners also backed called calls for 50 per cent representation for women in parliament, and for legislation to be introduced forcing political parties to ensure half of their candidates are women. 

Picture courtesy of Descrier 

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