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Caithness News Bulletins August 2003

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Elections Expert To Brief Councillors On Proposals For Election Reforms

The Highland Council will, this week, begin its debate on the implications of the Scottish Executive’s plans to create larger ‘multi-member’ Local Authority wards, with members elected by a proportional representation system (single transferable vote) rather than the present ‘first past the post’ method.

The Council has already expressed particular concern at the effects of the proposal on the representation of sparsely populated areas of the Highlands.

John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, will outline the implications of the new system at a meeting of the Council’s Renewing Democracy & Community Planning Select Committee.

Professor Curtice is a well-known commentator on Scottish elections, who has undertaken a wide range of research both into the operation of different electoral systems and public attitudes towards different systems.

The Highland Council's Renewing Democracy and Community Planning Select Committee Chairman, David Alston, said: “The Executive’s proposals will create much larger wards, each returning either three or four members. The Council’s policy is to support retention of the present system but it is clear that a new electoral system for local government is a key policy of the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition.

“We must campaign to make sure that the system is properly adapted to the needs of rural, sparsely populated areas. The smallest ward being proposed by the Scottish Executive is a three-member ward. Wards of this size would be, for example, all of north and west Sutherland or all of Wester Ross. I can see no reason for this ‘two sizes fits all’ approach. A system adapted to the variety of communities we have in Scotland, and in the Highlands, could range from single member wards in sparsely populated areas to four member wards - or even larger - in cities.

“I know that councillors hold different views on the principles of proportional representation and I expect that this will lead to lively debate. There is also much to welcome in the Executive’s proposals on opening up the role of councillor to a wider range of people in the community.”

The Renewing Democracy and Community Planning Select Committee will take place in the Chamber, Council Headquarters, Inverness on Wednesday, 6th August, 2003 at 10.00 a.m.

The Lead Up To Electoral Reform For Local Councils
The 'Commission on Local Government and The Scottish Parliament', chaired by Neil McIntosh, was set up prior to the election of the Parliament.  It recommended that proportional representation should be introduced for local government elections and that particular attention should be given to three voting systems: the Additional Member System (AMS), the Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) and the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

The Executive then established the Renewing Local Democracy Working Group, chaired by Richard Kerley.  Part of its remit was to recommend which alternative voting system, if any, should be used to elect councillors.  It concluded that the voting system that best met the requirements of its remit was the Single Transferable Vote.

In its Programme for Government, the Scottish Executive has stated that it is "...committed to continuing to make progress on electoral reform...".  Successive First Ministers have made it clear that the Kerley principles will be at the heart of local government modernisation.

On 27th March 2002, the Scottish Executive published a White Paper on proportional representation for local government in Scotland - 'Renewing Local Democracy: The Next Steps'.

The White Paper was the basis of a 4-month consultation, in which the Executive sought the views of the people of Scotland on whether the Single Transferable Vote is the most appropriate voting system for Scottish local elections.

Electoral Reform Society

Local Governance (Scotland) Bill
Scope Of Local Governance Bill
The Mackintosh Report 1999 - The Report of the The Commission on Local Government and The Scottish Parliament
Local Governance Scotland Bill Working Groups Set Up - Looking at what it will all cost...................
The three Renewing Local Democracy Working Groups will take forward work on some of the practical issues arising from the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote, on councillors' remuneration and on widening access to council membership. All three groups will begin their work over the summer months, and will each have a lifespan of about a year. CoSLA and a small number of other organisations have been invited to take part in the Working Groups.
The Single Transferable Vote Working Group will examine the procedures necessary to facilitate council elections being held using the Single Transferable Vote, of how multi-member wards will operate in practice, and will commission research and other information as required.
The Councillors' Remuneration Progress Group will consider options for, and the associated costs of, a new system of remuneration for councillors. The Group will also consider the role which councillors fulfil, the part-time commitment required of the majority of councillors, and the salary which this should attract. The Group will also consider the practical implications of giving councillors access to a pension scheme and options for a one-off severance scheme intended to recompense long-serving councillors who will not be standing at the next election, the remit of the Remuneration Committee which the Local Governance (Scotland) Act will establish and the skills and experience needed by its members.
The Widening Access to Council Membership Progress Group will take forward work on making council membership more attractive to a wider cross-section of the community, including the preparation of non-statutory guidance on the definition of politically restricted posts, and make recommendations on the training, development and support given to councillors.

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