Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:37 am on 6th February 2003.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 9:37 am, 6th February 2003

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3727, in the name of Tricia Marwick, on the general principles of the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 9:38 am, 6th February 2003

It is now seven months since the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill was introduced and nearly four years since the McIntosh commission recommended proportional representation for local government elections. We are now within weeks of the parliamentary elections that will see the end of the coalition Government, which promised to make progress on PR as part of its partnership agreement.

I have some views on the success of that coalition. I did not expect that, by 2003, it would have made no progress at all on PR. As Donald Gorrie remarked in September 2000:

"If we don't get it"—

PR on the statute book by the council elections in 2003—

"I believe most of my colleagues and the party in general would decide that the coalition should stop."

Well, Donald Gorrie and his colleagues have the chance to vote for a bill that would put PR on the statute book by 2003—my bill.

All that the Liberals have to show after four years of coalition and partnership is a bit of paper, issued on Tuesday this week, that promises more discussions and consultations after the 2003 elections if there is another agreement between the Liberals and Labour. Of course, there is the little matter of an election to get through and I am sure that the voters will have a view on the record of the current coalition Government.

Donald Gorrie recognises that any Liberal Democrat commitment on PR has been sacrificed on the bonnets of the ministerial Mondeos. As long-standing Liberal Democrat Chick Brodie, who resigned recently, said—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I will let the member speak in a minute, after I have talked about his ex-colleague Chick Brodie, who said:

"The opportunity for Liberal Democrats to deliver proportional representation for local government is I believe lost."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Given the attitude of the Conservatives and the official position of the Labour party, does Tricia Marwick think that there is a majority, in terms of the party positions in the chamber, for the reform that she seeks, with which—as she indicated—we agree in broad principle?

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I confirm for Robert Brown that it is not what I think that matters. I refer him to the Fairshare briefing—he has obviously not read it—which says that 73 out of 129 MSPs in the chamber believe in PR for local government. There is a clear majority for PR in local government and there has been a clear majority from day one of the Parliament. Fairshare knows it, it knows what the names are and Robert Brown is simply not right.

We will discover what kind of support there is for single transferable vote PR in local government at 5 o'clock tonight.

I will now explain what my bill will do and tell the chamber what some members of the Local Government Committee were prepared to do to manufacture concerns about the bill.

First, I will deal with the Liberal Democrat amendment. Yesterday, I said that the Liberal Democrats had been conned again on PR. Having seen the amendment that Iain Smith lodged for today, I now realise that that comment was much too generous. If the Liberal Democrats do not vote for the motion, which can put the PR bill on the statute book by March 2003, they are not simply stupid, they are unprincipled and they are hypocrites. On a television programme in December last year, Charles Kennedy said that all he wanted for Christmas was PR. His colleagues in this chamber have the chance to have PR by March 2003 but, instead, they will vote for a bit of paper.

I can hardly wait for Iain Smith to explain how he can vote for the general principles of the bill in the Local Government Committee and today move an amendment that rejects the general principles of the bill. On second thoughts, it would do us all a favour if Iain Smith spared us the self-serving, "gie's another job" type of speech that he usually makes.

Why are the Liberal Democrats voting against PR today? The answer I got from a Liberal Democrat MSP last night was, "We still favour STVPR, but we oppose the SNP." There we have it—the real reason is nothing to do with PR and nothing to do with the bill, and everything to do with the fact that this is a bill from a member of the Scottish National Party.

The arguments for STVPR are well rehearsed. All parties in the chamber will be both advantaged and disadvantaged by STVPR. What kind of system gives Labour in Midlothian 94 per cent of the seats on 46 per cent of the vote, the SNP in Angus 72 per cent of the seats on 47 per cent of the vote or the Lib Dems in East Dunbartonshire 42 per cent of the seats on 27 per cent of the votes? As Mr Harding well knows, the Conservatives have 41 per cent of the seats on 27 per cent of the vote in Stirling. Whatever we call that system, it is neither fair nor democratic.

My member's bill was drafted privately because, despite support from the Greens, the SSP and Dennis Canavan, it was denied non-Executive bill drafting time. None of the parties, including the Liberal Democrats, was prepared to support a motion on PR.

I thank Alyn Smith and Scott Martin for all their work. I also thank Andrew Mylne of the parliamentary staff, whose wise advice helped to prepare the bill for introduction.

My bill is simple. It has one aim and that is to enable STV for local government elections. When the bill was introduced in June, there was an opportunity for the 2003 elections to be held under PR. After all, it took only three months after enactment of PR for the Northern Ireland elections to be held. The Scotland Act 1998 was passed in November of that year and the Scottish Parliament elections were held in May 1999 using a proportional system. The 2003 elections could have been held under an STVPR system—what a wasted opportunity.

I turn now to the Local Government Committee's stage 1 report on the bill and the discussions that took place in public and private sessions. On the casting vote of the convener, the committee decided not to support the general principles of the bill. However, at paragraph 22 on page 4, the report claims that Tricia Marwick, Sandra White and Iain Smith supported the bill, and that Trish Godman, Sylvia Jackson, Richard Simpson and Keith Harding were opposed to it. That statement is not true. Keith Harding was not even at the meeting; it was John Young. John Young did not oppose the bill; he abstained. That left the committee tied at 3:3 and Trish Godman used her casting vote against the bill. Page 24 of the report gives the voting results.

The committee concluded that the consultation on the bill had not been adequate, despite the fact that representatives from Fairshare said in evidence that the principle of PR in local government had to be the most consulted on in local government history, that the issue had been "consulted to death" and that it was time for the Government to act.

The committee also concluded that the lack of prescription on ward sizes was a major flaw in my bill. In fact, it is a major strength. The flexibility of having up to eight members per electoral ward in an STV ward would allow rural and sparsely populated areas to have fewer members, which is precisely what members from rural councils such as Borders Council argued for in their evidence to the committee. In the PR system in the Scottish Parliament, Orkney and Shetland have separate MSPs so that account is taken of rurality and geographical differences. Not all constituencies have the same number of electors at present and, indeed, the Executive's draft bill also allows for different numbers of councillors in different wards.

Paragraph 79 of the stage 1 report says that the committee concluded by a majority that it was

"not content with the Policy Memorandum."

That conclusion was reached despite the fact that the bill is a member's bill and I was not required to produce a policy memorandum in the first place.

I have some sympathy with the view that the financial memorandum may be inadequate. The bill could enable the first STV elections on mainland Britain, and it is impossible for an individual member to quantify costs. However, if members were to approve the general principles of the bill, the Executive would be duty bound to work with me to work out costs before it lodged the financial resolution. As the Executive is apparently prepared to introduce PR, it is presumably prepared to meet the costs. If the Executive is prepared to meet the costs of its bill, it should be prepared to meet the costs of mine.

I turn to the most shameful manufactured opposition to a bill that I have experienced in the Parliament. Paragraph 90 of the report says that when the committee was considering its draft report, which concluded that too much power had been given to ministers to determine ward boundaries, the Subordinate Legislation Committee had already considered the matter and was satisfied with those powers. That committee had submitted its report to the convener two weeks before the Local Government Committee was to consider its own draft report.

The Subordinate Legislation Committee's report was withheld from the Local Government Committee on the instructions of the convener. It was finally distributed to the committee when I asked where it was. I have yet to get a satisfactory explanation of why a committee was asked to approve a report that was critical of the subordinate legislation powers in a bill without being given any explanation or indication that the Subordinate Legislation Committee's report was available and that it supported the measures I proposed.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

It is interesting to note that the Executive's draft proposals give exactly the same powers to ministers to prescribe the number of councillors per ward as my bill does.

As I said at the outset, my bill is an enabling bill. It allows Parliament to decide on the principles of PR and it allows the detail of wards and councillors to be determined following consultation. That is precisely the same mechanism that was applied by the Executive to the National Parks (Scotland) Bill.

The Fairshare briefing makes clear, as I made clear to Robert Brown, that there is and always has been a clear majority in favour of PR in the Scottish Parliament. Every opinion poll ever taken in Scotland shows a large majority of supporters in every party for PR in local government.

I say to MSPs of all parties today that, if they believe in PRSTV, they must vote for it. Let us take the opportunity to get it on the statute book by March 2003. If members fail to do that, they will fail the people of Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 9:50 am, 6th February 2003

Tricia Marwick spent four and a half minutes insulting the Liberal Democrats, two minutes on her own bill and four and a half minutes insulting her colleagues on the Local Government Committee. That hardly constitutes a speech in favour of a bill.

No one should have any doubt about the 100 per cent commitment of the Scottish Liberal Democrats to achieving proportional representation by single transferable vote for local government elections. The issue is how that can be achieved. The case for PR for local government is, in my view, irrefutable. It can never be right in a democracy that one party can gain 95 per cent of the seats with barely 50 per cent of the votes, or a majority of the seats with barely a third of the votes. Nor is it right that some parties with substantial support are left unrepresented.

Proportional representation is not about the interests of political parties in general or the interests of one political party. The Liberal Democrats, for example, have nothing to gain from PR for local government. In some areas, such as my constituency in North-East Fife, we have a great deal to lose. PR is about the interests of voters. It is about ensuring that every vote counts and that every voter has a fair chance of being represented by someone they choose.

Under a first-past-the-post system, most votes do not count.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

The case for PR was examined by McIntosh, by Kerley and in the white paper, "Renewing Local Democracy: The Next Steps." [MEMBERS: "And—"] In each instance, the case for PR was proven. [MEMBERS: "But—"] My commitment on behalf of my party—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Order. Tricia Marwick's speech was listened to reasonably respectfully, and I think that the same should apply to Iain Smith's speech on the amendment.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

My commitment, and that of my party, is to achieving a voting system for local government that is fair and makes votes count. We have not sold out and we have not been duped. Liberal Democrats have been working throughout this session of Parliament to make progress on electoral reform. Let us be clear about that. Without the Liberal Democrats in Government, there would have been no progress. There would have been no response to the McIntosh recommendations, no Kerley committee, no white paper on renewing local democracy and no local governance (Scotland) bill. That is the reality. Without us in Government, those things would not have happened.

I admit that the process has sometimes been slower than I would have wished, but we have made steady progress. Our goal is to ensure that the 2003 local elections are the last to be held under first past the post and that the 2007 local elections will be held using STV. We have a record of delivery. We delivered PR for this Parliament when the SNP was sitting on the sidelines saying that we had sold out and been duped.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

Fergus Ewing should sit down.

We delivered PR for European elections. In this Parliament, while the SNP has been sitting on the sidelines accusing us of having sold out and having been duped by Labour, we have delivered on free personal care, on the abolition of tuition fees and on freedom of information. The list goes on and on.

Unlike the SNP, the Liberal Democrats are not afraid of getting involved. We are not afraid of doing the hard work and we are not afraid of taking a risk to get what we want. By contrast, SNP members are interested only in criticising others and grabbing the headlines. Their party's priorities are set by whatever is on the front page of the last newspaper that they read.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I am obliged to Mr Smith for giving way. Perhaps he could just save us a lot of time and tell us why the Liberal Democrats do not want to vote for the bill today?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

Is Mr Davidson voting for it? I shall ignore that pointless intervention and get back to the SNP.

I do not doubt for a second the SNP's commitment to STVPR, or that of Tricia Marwick. However, it is a strange coincidence that PR suddenly popped up to the top of the SNP's priority agenda only when there was media speculation about problems with the coalition and threats that it might break up.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I ask members to cast their minds back to that time, when Jack McConnell became leader of the Labour party. On 22 November 2001—

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I apologise. I did not see Mrs Ewing at the back of the chamber.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

I am glad that Mr Smith finally spotted me, because I am one of the people who has been consistently committed to PR. Donald Gorrie will confirm that, because he and I have been at various meetings on the issue over many years. Indeed, I attended a Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton on PR.

What I find difficult to comprehend today is why, when there is an opportunity to advance the cause of PR, the Liberal Democrats, who have always made PR part of their manifesto, are going to vote against a move for which there is wide support among the Scottish public.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I have taken some interventions, Presiding Officer. I hope that you will allow me to complete some important points and answer the questions that have been raised.

On 22 November 2001, John Swinney said in this chamber:

"On my election as the First Minister we would usher in immediate legislation to ensure that the local elections in 2003 are held under a new system."—[Official Report, 22 November 2001; c 4160.]

Tricia Marwick claimed that the bill was on the table, but it took another seven months to appear. [MEMBERS: "It is here now."] The SNP is all talk and no delivery. Tricia Marwick claims—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Can you confirm the status of the piece of paper that Iain Smith is waving about? Can you confirm that a bill is not a bill until it is introduced into the Parliament, and that the bit of paper that is claimed to be a bill is no such thing?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

The bill has been published, as we promised it would be. Let us be clear about one thing. The big flaw in the SNP's argument is that it refuses to recognise the simple truth that there are 19 votes on the Conservative benches and 56 on the Labour benches against Tricia Marwick's bill today.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

There is therefore no majority in this Parliament for the bill. Perhaps SNP members could answer this question in their speeches. How would it advance the cause of PR in local government for this Parliament to vote against it today? To vote for the amendment is not to vote against PR but to ensure that we continue to make progress. The reason for my amendment is to prevent Parliament from voting against PR for local government.

It would be better, even at this stage, for Tricia Marwick to recognise her folly, withdraw her flawed bill and join us in the campaign to ensure that, in the next Parliament, PR for local government becomes a reality.

I move amendment S1M-3727.1, to leave out from "agrees" to end and insert:

"notes the Local Government Committee's Stage 1 Report on the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) Bill and that any change to the election system could not come into effect until the 2007 local government elections at the earliest; further notes the publication by the Scottish Executive of its Local Governance (Scotland) Bill document which fulfils the commitments made to make progress on electoral reform and deals with wider issues to encourage greater participation in local government, and, with regard to the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) Bill, therefore does not agree to the general principles of this particular Bill for the reason that its provisions demonstrably do not meet the extensive requirements for renewing local democracy."

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 9:56 am, 6th February 2003

As the Parliament will be aware, the Executive's views on the bill are well known, and have been for some time. I set out the Executive's position in some detail in the evidence that I gave to the Local Government Committee during its stage 1 consideration of the bill. Therefore, it will come as no surprise to members to hear that we do not support the bill. Indeed, we do not see any need for it.

There are a number of reasons why we do not support the bill. As the Local Government Committee concluded in its report, the bill is quite clearly flawed. There is no indication of the timetable for the introduction of STV or of the processes to be put in place to allow the system to operate; nor is there any recognition of the administrative issues involved in putting the new system in place. As the committee concluded, there is no evidence of consultation having taken place with anyone, let alone the people who would be responsible for the implementation of the new electoral system.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Will Peter Peacock tell us whether, as a minister in the Labour-Liberal coalition, he is personally committed to the principle of PR for local government, given that, as vice-president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, he committed himself to that principle on a number of occasions?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

All will be revealed as I continue my speech on behalf of the Executive.

The fundamental principle of this Parliament is that propositions are consulted on fully and openly. In that regard, Tricia Marwick falls far short of the mark. As she herself said, the financial memorandum gives no indication of the likely financial or resource costs of introducing STV, although it is clear that the introduction of a new system would have resource implications for the Executive. Parliament needs to know those costs when it considers any bill.

In addition, the introduction of STV would mean that the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland would have to make recommendations on new electoral wards. The memorandum states that the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland is scheduled to conduct a review of arrangements in 2004, and that any additional expense will be minimal. However, even those basic, factual statements are inaccurate. The review scheduled for 2004 is an administrative one, not an electoral one. The review of electoral boundaries is scheduled to take place between 2006 and 2010. In fact, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland would be required to draw up revised electoral boundaries and to consult before making recommendations to ministers. Therefore, additional funding would be required. Furthermore, the administrative and electoral reviews would both need to be rescheduled, and neither the memorandum nor the bill recognises those facts.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Does not the minister recognise that, if electors vote in 2003 for another Liberal and Labour coalition—God forbid—or if a partnership is stitched together, and if that partnership is committed to PR in local government, the cost of Labour and the Liberals introducing PR for local government elections sometime after 2003 would be precisely the same as the cost of introducing PR under my bill at the moment? There were a lot of ifs in that question. If members of the coalition parties can support their own introduction of PR, why cannot they support mine?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

My point is that the financial implications of any bill that is introduced should be attached when the Parliament considers it. Any bill that the Executive introduces in future will have that information attached to it.

As well as being flawed, the bill is fundamentally ill conceived. It seeks to deal with only one aspect of the renewing local democracy agenda. Instead of seeing local democracy in the round, the bill is narrowly focused on a single issue of electoral reform. In that sense, the bill is born of political opportunism. As Iain Smith indicated, the bill was born on the back of a press release, not on the foundation of good government. Its principal purpose was not to bring about improvements to Scottish democracy, but to seek to cause division between the coalition partners—something it has singularly failed to do. Its purpose was never to advance local democracy. If the bill had been a genuine attempt to advance local democracy, it would have been more complete, would have been introduced sooner, would have been the subject of detailed consultation and would have examined the costs involved up front. When the Executive introduces legislation, it spells out the costs at the time, so that Parliament can consider them as part of the package. We will do that for any legislation that affects the renewal of local democracy in future.

I said that we believe that the bill is unnecessary as we approach the last days of the parliamentary session. It is unnecessary because the change that it proposes cannot be implemented until 2007 at the earliest. There simply is not sufficient time to make such a change before the forthcoming elections on 1 May. Let me be clear that even if the bill were not flawed, it would not be practical to introduce a new electoral system in time for the elections on 1 May. There would have to be a review of electoral boundaries, and consultation on what is proposed. Consultation would have to take place with the people who administer elections. There would also have to be a significant amount of secondary legislation to give effect to the bill's provisions. It simply cannot be done.

The bill is also unnecessary because, as the Executive has made clear, it is already active on electoral reform in the context of the wider agenda of reinvigorating local democracy. We want to encourage a more active, more participative local democracy. We want a more diverse range of people to stand for election, and we want to create the conditions in which that can happen.

The coalition partners gave an undertaking to make progress on electoral reform. We have never considered the issue in isolation from other aspects of the agenda to renew local democracy. Indeed, I find it difficult to see how anyone who is reasonable about the matter could deal with it in isolation. It is difficult to see how anyone could separate the issue of how councillors are elected from other key issues such as who can stand for election, and how those elected are rewarded for the work that they do.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I cannot, as I am running out of time.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

It is difficult to see how anyone can separate consideration of the electoral system from consideration of one of the key issues facing local government in Scotland: how do we encourage people from groups which are underrepresented on councils to get involved? We have, quite properly, taken time to consider the full range of issues that affect councillors, and we make no apology for that. In fact, the approach that the Executive has taken to the issue compares favourably with the approach taken in the bill.

It is important not to rush into significant constitutional change, and to see electoral reform in the wider context of renewing local democracy. We have consistently emphasised our commitment to making progress on electoral reform for local government. On 24 September we announced that we would publish a local governance bill before the end of this parliamentary session, which would embrace the wide range of issues discussed in the context of renewing local governance. We have done so, and fulfilled our commitment. The local governance (Scotland) bill was published on Tuesday this week, and will be available for consideration by the new Executive after the elections in May.

Unlike Tricia Marwick's bill, the local governance (Scotland) bill examines local governance in the round and is not narrowly focused on electoral reform. It covers other issues, such as the creation of a new remuneration system for councillors and the establishment of an independent remuneration committee to consider councillors' pay, and it makes a number of changes to make it easier for certain groups of people to stand for election as a councillor. Most important, the local governance (Scotland) bill reflects the outcome of consultation on the white paper.

We believe that the bill before us today is fundamentally opportunistic, badly motivated and ill conceived, and that, in any event, it cannot make any change to the local electoral system until 2007 at the earliest. Therefore, the Executive opposes the bill, which offers no advantage, and will support the amendment in Iain Smith's name.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I now call Michael Russell. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps I should explain why I am calling Mike Russell now. Tricia Marwick spoke to the bill as its author; Mike Russell is speaking on behalf of the SNP, and so comes before the Conservatives.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 10:04 am, 6th February 2003

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I begin by indicating the SNP's unanimous and overwhelming support for the bill. As Margaret Ewing rightly pointed out, fair votes in Scottish local government is one of the SNP's long-standing principles. We will stick by our principles in the matter and go with the 76 per cent of Labour voters, the 81 per cent of Conservative voters, the 88 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters and the 78 per cent of SNP voters who in the latest poll indicated that they want PR in local government. We are honest with the people who vote in Scotland; alas, all the other parties appear not to be so.

The minister's speech summed up well the reality of the situation. It would have been convincing had it not lacked one thing: the timeline for this issue and this debate. Let us remind ourselves of that timeline.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No, not yet. I know that Mr Brown is a keen enthusiast for PR and I hope that he will vote for the bill.

The McIntosh report was commissioned almost exactly five years ago. The commission reported in June 1999. Indeed, the very first full debate in this chamber after the Parliament took its powers was on the report. At that stage, the Kerley committee was set up. The McIntosh report concluded that it was time for an immediate and urgent study, with a view to legislation that should take effect in time to govern the next council elections. At that time, the next council elections were in 2002, not 2003. As a result, at the start of the Parliament, it was clear that the timetable for progress on PR was seen as something that should affect those elections.

No matter what Iain Smith says, the reality is that the Liberals have failed to achieve the policy within the time scale that they themselves promised at the start of the Parliament. Such a failure is significant, because the matter is not just about politics; as the minister rightly said, it is about renewing local democracy.

At the very heart of the issue is the relationship between the Parliament and local authorities. In that regard, I quote no less a source than Jim Wallace. In the House of Commons in June 1998, Mr Wallace very acutely said:

"Without proportional representation for local government, there is a serious danger that a Scottish Parliament elected by proportional representation will not treat local government, if it is still elected under a distorting first-past-the-post system, with the respect that it should receive."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 16 June 1998; Vol 314, c 211.]

In those circumstances, the root of the mismatch between Scottish local government and the Parliament lies in the Parliament's failure to help local government to reform. That is why the issue is urgent, and why it has to be resolved quickly instead of within the Liberal Democrats' bizarre time scales.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I know that the Liberal Democrats have a lot of power, but Mike Russell appears to be investing us with even more power than most people would accept we have. After all, we account for only 16 out of 129 MSPs. Does not he accept that, as of now, there is no parliamentary majority for the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill, but a majority exists for the draft local governance (Scotland) bill?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I know that the Liberal Democrat party is a party no longer of principle, but of pragmatism, but perhaps it should remember the Westminster maxim that the vote follows the voice. There are times when, if people believe in something strongly enough, they will vote for it. If, for as long as the Liberal Democrat party has existed, one of its abiding principles has been that PR is essential, I cannot understand how its members can fail to vote for it. If they do so, they are abandoning one of their key principles.

In the brief amount of time that I have left, I want to point out why the issue is absolutely vital in Scotland. I take as an example the situation in North Ayrshire, which is an area that I know well. I know that I have told this story before, but it is always worth repeating.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Mr Wilson does not normally say that, but I will tell it again.

In North Ayrshire, the Labour party gets 47 per cent of the vote and 83 per cent of the seats. Such an enormous mismatch leads to internecine warfare in the Labour group, local people being left unrepresented, communities crumbling, housing deteriorating, vandalism rising and jobs disappearing. Meanwhile, the local Labour group argues about important matters such as who should go to which reception and—as Mrs Ullrich knows—who gets a place next to Councillor Jack Carson at the Delta bar. That is the level of debate that finds its way into the local newspapers, because the Labour party in North Ayrshire does not care about the voters. As long as that continues to be the case, the people will suffer. The people who indicated to Fairshare that they would support PR are suffering. Under those circumstances, the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill is essential.

Labour has dragged its feet because the backwoodsmen are now in charge, and they hate democracy. The Liberals have walked away from principle. The opportunity exists today to do something different: to support PR in principle; to take the issue forward; and to be honest, not just to other members of the Parliament, and not just about the Labour councils that are misusing power, but to all the people I mentioned earlier—the 76 per cent of Labour voters, the 81 per cent of Conservative voters, the 88 per cent of Lib Dem voters and the 78 per cent of SNP voters. The vast majority of Scotland wants the bill. Not to vote for it through fear that people on another party's benches do not want it is to be dishonest to the Scottish voters, and members must not be that.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 10:11 am, 6th February 2003

The Scottish Conservatives, members will be surprised to learn, are opposed to the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill. We believe that the current first-past-the-post electoral system should remain for local government elections. The introduction of STV for local government elections that the bill proposes would cause confusion, as Labour has already forced three different electoral systems on us at four levels of government.

In written evidence to the Local Government Committee, Professor Bill Miller from the University of Glasgow outlined:

"The standard work on electoral systems advises against changing the electoral system".

He went on to quote:

"Familiarity breeds stability. Political forces learn to live with the system and devise appropriate strategies."

Changes to systems or the introduction of different systems at different levels of government would result in confusion for the electorate and for political parties. Despite all the evidence that we have been given today, there does not seem to be public support for such a change to the local government electoral system. The system of first past the post has been in operation for a considerable time, and there does not appear to be a substantial popular demand for change. Professor Bill Miller argues:

"In fact polling evidence suggests that the public would like proportional representation combined with efficient and decisive ... single-party government i.e. they like the abstract principle of proportionality but do not like its practical consequences."

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

If the 1999 elections to the Scottish Parliament had been carried out under a system of first past the post, the member would not be here. In fact, no Tory members would have been elected in 1999. Is it not rather unusual for a drowning person to throw away the lifeline?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

It is unusual for a political party to put the interests of the people before its own.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Kenny Gibson should be quiet.

The bill is flawed. It received insufficient consultation in its formation and relies on evidence from previous inquiries, such as the Kerley report, which was in itself flawed, as it did not examine first past the post. The bill proposes that, because of the time constraints before the May elections, Scottish ministers should draw up the first set of ward boundaries and set the number of councillors to be elected in each area. Allowing politicians to make those decisions might result in gerrymandering or Tullymandering, as political parties favour themselves and arrange boundaries in such a way as to ensure that they gain the most advantageous position in the election.

The proposed STV system for local government elections has many inherent drawbacks. It would most likely lead to permanent coalition administrations for local government, resulting in politicians controlling agendas through secret meetings in smoke-filled rooms and in power being taken away from the electorate. The STV system would lead to disproportionate results, as parties that receive only small backing from a small minority of the electorate gain access to power. That is most obvious in the Scottish Parliament, where the fourth largest party currently enjoys coalition Government and has a leader who has been acting First Minister of Scotland twice.

STV would result in more hung councils and would give disproportionate power to those councillors who are most willing to trade their support for the larger parties in return for favours of either office or policy. Because of the need for multimember wards under the system, STV would break the direct link between elected representatives and wards. The retention of that link is vital, as it is only through that link that councils remain responsive to the needs of their local community and provide the effective representation of local needs that the electorate values.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

No, thank you.

Such representation is best achieved through the direct election of all councillors on a first-past-the-post basis at ward level.

The Scottish Conservatives support the current first-past-the-post system because it favours strong governance and clear accountability for parties that win an outright majority. It ensures that the electorate, not the politicians, choose the ruling administration. It gives a direct link between elected members and the people who elected them. The system is familiar to the public, and the votes are simple to cast and count. As Dennis Canavan implied, the introduction of PR would benefit our party in some councils, but we believe that first past the post is best for the electorate.

Far from promoting democracy, the SNP, through Tricia Marwick, has once again demonstrated that it is interested only in promoting its own selfish party-political interests. Proportional representation would only institutionalise power in the hands of politicians, with a permanent state of coalition and proportional cronyism. Sharing jobs and allowances among political cronies is not the answer to Scotland's problems. Only we, the Scottish Conservatives, are prepared to change that view on principle, not in the hope of winning more seats.

It is crunch time for the Liberal Democrats. Today, they have the opportunity to vote for one of their main policies. I recall Alex Neil talking about a shiver running round the Parliament. I hope that the Liberal Democrats have developed spines for it to run down. If not, they will be seen for what they are: lily-livered Liberals who, as usual, are selling their principles to save their ministerial Mondeos. Their supporters will not forgive or forget.

We agree with the Local Government Committee that the flaws in the bill are too severe for us to allow it to continue its parliamentary progress, and that the general principles of the bill should not be approved.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

We now come to the open debate. Although we started early, more members now wish to speak than gave advance notice, so the time limit for speeches will be four minutes.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 10:17 am, 6th February 2003

It would be easy to speak either for or against PR at local government level, but it is important to focus on Tricia Marwick's bill—on what the policy memorandum says, on the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill itself, on the financial memorandum and on the explanatory notes. I am sorry to see that Tricia Marwick has now left the chamber.

Any bill has to meet certain criteria. It must be shown that adequate consultation has taken place; that the bill has adequately defined underlying principles; and that it is possible for the bill to be implemented—both in a financial sense and in order to meet its principles.

On the policy memorandum, the Executive argued to the Local Government Committee:

"neither the section on consultation nor the section on alternative approaches recognises the arguments put forward by opponents of STV, so it presents an unbalanced view."—[Official Report, Local Government Committee, 26 November 2002; c 3580.]

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I am interested in this "unbalanced view" of PR and of STVPR in particular. Of the 316 written responses to the Scottish Executive's own consultation, 252, or 80 per cent, were in support of STVPR, while a further 25, or 8 per cent, were still in favour of PR. Only 39 supported the status quo. Is not it sufficient that, according to the Scottish Executive's own consultation, there is overwhelming support for STVPR, or do we have to consult for ever?

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

No, we do not have to consult for ever, but we need to take a balanced view and know that that view is being gauged. It obviously was not.

The committee acknowledges that there has been significant consultation on PR in local government elections generally, but it was concerned about two particular aspects of consultation on the bill. First, there was no evidence of consultation with the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland. The minister has already outlined the significant issues about when the review would take place. The evidence on that was not clear. Secondly, there was no consultation with returning officers on the practical issues, including the financial considerations for local government that would arise from the bill's enactment. I think that Tricia Marwick admitted that the financial aspect of the bill has not been adequately addressed. For those reasons, the committee concluded that the consultation was inadequate.

I turn now to the underlying principles of the bill. The section of the policy memorandum on consultation contains the following sentence:

"McIntosh concluded that proportional representation was the best electoral method for local government, and that the system of PR chosen should be the one that best satisfies the following criteria: proportionality, the councillor-ward link, fair provision for independents, allowance for geographical diversity and a close fit between council wards and natural communities."

Those criteria are important principles when deciding which system of PR to choose. I will deal with just one of them: the councillor-ward link.

I disagree slightly with what Keith Harding said. One of the key issues that opponents of PR often raise is the importance of the councillor-ward link, which PR reduces. After taking considerable evidence on the issue, the Local Government Committee concluded that there was perhaps insufficient evidence to support the arguments of opponents of PR for the importance of the councillor-ward link. To some extent, that supports the SNP's position. Professor Bill Miller argued that the extent to which there is a councillor-ward link under any system is unclear.

My most serious reservations about the bill relate to its implementation. Professor Bill Miller outlined the phenomenon of Tullymandering—how a party in power can fiddle a system of PR. I do not have time to quote from him, but members may read the evidence that he submitted.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

I do not have time to read out Professor Miller's evidence, as I am in the final minute of my speech.

The bill fails on three counts and should be stopped. We should support the broader, more comprehensive local governance (Scotland) bill.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party 10:22 am, 6th February 2003

It is patently obvious that most people and most of the respondents to the Scottish Executive's consultation are in favour of proportional representation and STV.

I will dispose of Keith Harding's notion that the SNP is in this for itself. In Angus, we have the highest percentage of seats—72 per cent—from 47 per cent of the votes. That is not fair in anyone's book. Glasgow is the classic example. There, Labour has 94 per cent of the seats from 47 per cent of the votes. In Inverclyde, Labour has 55 per cent of the seats from 38 per cent of the votes.

We must remember that we are trying to engage the public in the democratic electoral process. All the people whose votes went into the pot but who got nothing back are well on the way to becoming disillusioned. That issue must be grasped. We must engage people and get them involved in the democratic process. We should support PR in principle, sooner rather than later.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I want to pursue the issue of voter participation. Why is it expected that, despite proportional representation, the turnout for the next Scottish parliamentary election may be below 50 per cent?

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party

I might attribute that to the abysmal performance of the Scottish Executive and to the fact that we have a national Government that spins on spin and takes little account of what the people think, especially in the current international situation.

I remind the Liberals of their manifesto for the 1999 election. It stated that they would

"Break up unaccountable one-party fiefdoms by introducing fair votes for local elections, based on the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member wards."

However, they will not do it in this session.

The Liberal Democrats' unwillingness to support the bill is driven by Labour's major divisions. They are locked into a coalition that they cannot leave, and Labour is grievously split on the matter of proportional representation. I remind Peter Peacock, who suffered temporary amnesia when Bruce Crawford asked him where he stood on PR, of his position. He said:

"For the first time, people in the Highlands and Islands who have voted Labour all their lives have people representing their interests directly in the Parliament."

Peter Peacock was elected to the Parliament—as I was—because of PR.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I always accept advertising—from whatever quarter. Does the member concede that independent councillors in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, as well as Labour councillors, vehemently oppose PR, because of the nature of STV?

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party

I am prepared to concede that there are differences of opinion here, there and all over the place. However, primarily those differences are locked into the party that holds most of the power.

I quote Robin Cook—not something that I do very frequently. He stated:

"I have always felt uncomfortable at the fact that we asked people to vote Labour where they often had little chance of getting Labour representation."

Then we come to the nub of the matter. We are told:

"Labour party activists are increasingly hostile to PR at every level. The experience in Scotland has shown us that PR leads to chaos and instability."

I am not chaotic or unstable. The quotation continues:

"I think there is a growing reality that it would be quite acceptable for Labour to drop its commitment to a referendum in the next manifesto. If not, it could be quite easily kicked into the long grass."

Jimmy Hood has stated:

"We must defend Scottish local government, defend democracy and, more importantly, defend the Labour Party".

Helen Eadie has stated:

"If PR goes ahead, Labour will never again form a majority government in either Westminster or local government in Scotland."

The nub of the matter is that the Labour party is split. If Liberal Democrats have any bottle and believe in the principle of PR, they should vote for it today. The time is right—the time is now. Liberal Democrat members should allow themselves to be seen as people of principle, instead of buckling to their Labour partners.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative 10:26 am, 6th February 2003

An old Glasgow councillor used to say, "Let's cut the crap." That is what should be said this morning—if the word "crap" is acceptable. If not, I will say, "Let's go through the mist and clear it away." Why is the SNP following this line today? SNP members are saying, "If we can't win, let's change the rules." Alternatively, does the SNP have secret ambitions to replace the Liberals in the coalition with Labour? That is not impossible.

What about the Liberals? If they cannot be voted into power, they are prepared to join that rag-tag team of closet socialists who today call themselves Labour. That is the Liberals' 100 per cent dedication—a share in power at any price.

Tricia Marwick mentioned the Local Government Committee meeting at which I abstained.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I will take an intervention from the member later.

In the seconds before the division to which Tricia Marwick referred, I realised that the vote would be tied at 3-3. I wanted to see whether Trish Godman, the Labour convener of the committee, would use her casting vote to support the coalition deal and PR, thereby satisfying the Liberals. Of course, she did not—she voted for the status quo and made it plain that she was not happy with me for abstaining. She wanted me to do Labour's dirty work.

PR has been tried in Scotland and dumped twice. Before 1929, Scottish educational boards were elected by PR, but the system was then dumped. Members of Parliament for the university seats in Scotland were also elected by PR, but that was dumped in 1951. Commenting on PR, a former Italian Prime Minister stated that one could not bounce a ping-pong ball in the Italian Parliament without hitting at least 16 ex-Prime Ministers and that PR was responsible for a lack of stability.

In Glasgow, I served as councillor for a multimember ward, which was represented by three councillors. A local election was held every year. Today that is not feasible.

Why are the Liberals so keen on PR? Because they want more seats. In Glasgow a quarter of a century ago, the Liberals had only one seat. How many seats do they have in Glasgow today? Only one. That is how far they have progressed in a quarter of a century. The one councillor elected a quarter of a century ago was Robert Brown.

The Tories stick to their principles. We will not grovel about for a miserable handout of PR votes in order to be a coalition party.

The Liberal party produced giants such as Gladstone and Lloyd George. Wherever they are now, they must weep to see the Liberals prostituting their beliefs.

What do we have this morning? The Liberals are doing somersaults. The SNP knows that it cannot increase the number of local government seats that it holds without PR. This debate is not about democracy; it is about power.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Does the member recognise that in the parliamentary constituency that I represent the SNP is over-represented substantially, as compared with the vote? I support PR as a matter of principle, unlike the turncoats on the Liberal Democrat benches.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I always thought that Stewart Stevenson was a man of principle. This morning he has confirmed that—in the eyes of some, at least.

Only the Tories stick to their beliefs, at some sacrifice. It would be in our interests to support PR, but we have principles. Keith Harding said that the bill was flawed and he is absolutely right. We do not believe that rules should be changed for political advantage. We accept the democratic system, unlike many in the Parliament.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour 10:30 am, 6th February 2003

It always amuses me to hear Tories claiming that they stick to their principles even to the point of self-sacrifice. If they are committed to the first-past-the-post system and opposed to any form of proportional representation, why do they not stand only in the constituency element of the elections to the Scottish Parliament, which is fought under the first-past-the-post system? That would ensure that they did not have to be tainted by putting their names on the regional lists. However, I suspect that, in May, almost every Tory in the chamber will have put their names on to the lists with the hope of being elected under a system of PR. They should not talk about self-sacrifice when any one of them who gets back into the Parliament will do so by hanging on the coat tails of a system of PR. The Tories should face up to that reality.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

I will give way to Phil Gallie, a man who I am sure will not stand on the list.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The Conservatives will always accept the democratically arrived-at situation. We are obliged to face up to the existence of PR. We would benefit from having PR in local government, but we have decided to stand against it. Our opposition to Mr McAllion's flawed ideas would not preclude us from standing for election to local authorities under a PR system, if such a system were to be put in place.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

Phil Gallie is able to make that point in this chamber only because of what he calls my flawed ideas on PR.

Like Margaret Ewing, who spoke earlier, I have a long record of consistent support for PR, not only for local government but for the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament. I remember speaking in favour of PR at Liberal Democrat conferences and at SNP conferences. In fact, I appeared with Margaret Ewing at an SNP conference in Inverness—I caused a bit of a stir when I walked in the door because the delegates thought that I was there for another reason, which, obviously, I was not.

There is support for PR across all the parties. I am not alone in my party in my support for PR. I have spoken in support of PR at fringe meetings at Labour party conferences, along with the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services. I know that he is a principled supporter of PR, as are many of my Labour colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. Indeed, I was surprised to find out how many Labour MSPs support PR and want it to be used in local government and Westminster elections. Despite the fact that the Labour party's submission to the stage 1 report said that it was in favour of retaining the first-past-the-post system for local government elections, that is not the view of everyone in the Labour party. I remember when the Scottish Labour party conference passed a resolution saying that the first-past-the-post system had failed the Scottish people and that we had to have electoral reform and implement new systems of PR in order better to serve the Scottish people.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

As someone who does not believe what Scottish Labour is saying now, I will give way to Bill Butler, a man who did not believe what Scottish Labour said back then.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I remember the history of the process in the party that John McAllion is talking about. When the party overwhelmingly supports the retention of the first-past-the-post system in March, will he accept that decision as I had to accept the decision that he mentioned?

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

Bill Butler never accepted the previous decision. He has consistently argued and fought for the first-past-the-post system and I respect his position just as I expect people in the Labour party to respect mine. I am not going to change my views because other people in the party do not agree with me. There are people in the party—even in local government—who want PR for local government elections and who believe, as I do, that such a move would be in the Labour party's interests. Colin Campbell quoted Jimmy Hood saying that, first and foremost, we must defend the Labour party's interests. I suggest that, if the Labour party's interests are not the same as those of the Scottish people, the Labour party is in trouble. We have to understand that and remember that the Scottish people want the system to be changed.

I do not like the way in which the SNP is arguing its case this morning. Tricia Marwick spent most of her opening speech attacking the Liberal Democrats as unprincipled hypocrites. When Iain Smith said that they were principled supporters of PR, he was met with howls of derision from the SNP. I remind the SNP that the Parliament uses a form of PR in its elections. If PR is ever to be introduced in local government elections, there will have to be a cross-party consensus, an essential part of which will be formed by the Liberal Democrats.

It makes no sense for supporters of PR to be hitting each other with sticks and calling each other sell-out merchants. If we supporters of PR do not stick together, the first-past-the-post supporters in all the other parties will make sure that we never get PR introduced for local government elections. We must not split the support for PR in the Parliament. If 73 MSPs are in favour of PR for local government elections, let us try to get a vote on that principle. We should not use this debate as an opportunity to get electoral advantage.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Mr McAllion has said that there is cross-party support for PR in local government elections and that 73 MSPs are in favour of the idea. That is a majority. If all members who believe in PR vote for the bill, we can have PR for local government elections by 2003. That is the goal. How will Mr McAllion vote today?

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

This week, the House of Commons got itself into a mess over House of Lords reforms, as it was unable to get a majority in favour of any option. We are in danger of going down a similar road and making ourselves a laughing stock if the majority of MSPs who are in favour of PR for local government elections do not vote for it. People will ask why they elected us in the first place if we do not vote for what we believe in. That is why I will be voting for PR tonight.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

If Mike Rumbles keeps his remarks tight, there might be time for another Liberal Democrat speaker later.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 10:36 am, 6th February 2003

John McAllion's comments were most appropriate. We have to build a consensus for PR across the chamber, but the way in which the SNP has framed its remarks has not helped that process. The SNP well knows that, if there were a whipped vote on Tricia Marwick's bill, the bill would fall. The last thing that I want to do, as a principled supporter of PR, is to have a situation in which the Scottish Parliament rejects PR for local government. By accepting the amendment that has been lodged by Iain Smith, we will be able to vote for the establishment of PR for local government elections in the future.

Years ago, a television advertisement asked whether the viewer could tell the difference between margarine and butter. We have two bills before us today: Tricia Marwick's bill, which is printed on two sides of a piece of paper, and a draft bill published by the Scottish Executive.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The member has yet again referred to the Executive's bit of paper as a bill. I ask you to confirm that it is not a bill and will not be a bill until it is introduced to the Parliament.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

That is the position. We have a document.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I said that it was a draft bill. Tricia Marwick obviously did not hear me properly.

Tricia Marwick's bill is priced at £1.10, but, if anyone bought it, it would be daylight robbery.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I know that my hearing is faulty, but I was sitting right beside Mr Rumbles and I distinctly heard him say that there were two bills before the Parliament. He did not say "draft bill".

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Phil Gallie seems to hear what he wants to hear. I repeat, we have two bills before us: Tricia Marwick's bill and the Scottish Executive's draft bill. Please listen to what I am saying.

I do not wish to denigrate Tricia Marwick's bill, as it has served a purpose, in that it has spurred on the Executive to introduce a draft bill. I am committed to PR, as is every Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament. It does not help the situation to misrepresent the Liberal Democrat position. The SNP knows perfectly well that the important thing is that we get a PR bill into the next session of Parliament and approve it before the 2007 local government elections. If, as a result of the votes of the Scottish people on 1 May 2003, the Liberal Democrats take part in coalition negotiations, PR for local government will be a fundamental point. We will be looking for the draft bill to be introduced to the Parliament. That will be our position, take it or leave it. We will not be involved in a coalition unless that condition is met.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour 10:39 am, 6th February 2003

It is customary to congratulate a member who introduces a non-Executive bill for the consideration of the chamber and I have no problem in formally acknowledging Tricia Marwick's doggedness and tenacity—I readily place on record my recognition of those attributes. However, they are characteristics of the bill's author and should be separated from consideration of the bill's possible merits. Unhappily, search as we might, the bill seems to be devoid of merit—in its present form, it is highly flawed. In my brief but, I hope, helpful contribution, I will examine a few areas in which a more rigorous approach might have produced a more considered, and more considerable, bill.

Let us turn first to the glaring inadequacies of the consultation process. As Tricia Marwick admitted to the Local Government Committee, she has carried out no specific consultation on her bill's proposals or on its practical implications. For example, no evidence was presented to the Local Government Committee to indicate that the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland or the returning officers had been consulted on the practical implications of the bill's proposals.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Does the member understand the concept of an enabling bill? An enabling bill allows the principles to be approved. The Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill uses exactly the same mechanism as the one that the Executive used in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. The consultation on ward boundaries and all the other issues comes after the bill is passed.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I am afraid that it is Tricia Marwick who does not understand. It is her bill that is under inspection by the Parliament. It is not for me to support her bill and to avoid mentioning the obvious flaws in it.

I will deal with another couple of those flaws. There has been no consultation on the number of councillors per ward. One would have thought that that practical issue would have been considered. There has been no consultation on the powers that the bill seeks to give Scottish ministers to determine ward boundaries or the number of councillors in each ward if the first election is held before the Local Government Boundary Commission has made recommendations. No part of the so-called consultation sought alternative approaches or contrary views.

The member has made the elementary error of presuming that a forceful restatement of her position, and that of her party, amounts to a detailed and coherent examination of the specific reform that she proposes. However, it does not; it amounts only to the regurgitation of a belief, rather than to a consultation that examines the bill's practicability.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I will give way to my coalition colleague.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I wonder whether, for the avoidance of doubt, Mr Butler could make it clear to the Parliament what would happen if my amendment to the motion fell. Would the Labour party vote for Tricia Marwick's bill?

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

The answer is no. I hope that that is helpful to the member.

I could focus on other major defects in the bill, such as the real possibility that it would result in Tullymandering, to which Professor Bill Miller referred in his evidence. I could draw attention to the inadequacy of the bill's financial memorandum, which claims that the costs of implementation would be minimal. The Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services has dealt with that issue satisfactorily. However, I mention those examples simply to illustrate the bill's more glaring imperfections.

I commend the Executive's amendment to the motion, which makes special mention of the recently published local governance (Scotland) bill. That document represents a modern approach to the challenge of renewing and supporting local government. It not only deals with electoral systems, but considers positive changes, such as proper remuneration for councillors and a possible reduction in the age at which people may stand for election as councillors.

The draft bill provides a reasonably well-designed and up-to-date vehicle for the renewal of local government. It is a prototype that bears further examination. Tricia Marwick's clapped-out old banger of a bill does not; it would not run properly and it deserves to make no further progress.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

That leaves time for three speeches of three minutes each.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 10:44 am, 6th February 2003

I welcome the opportunity to express my support in principle for Tricia Marwick's bill. It is sometimes difficult for politicians or political parties to make an objective judgment on electoral systems, because most political parties have a vested interest in one system or another. The criterion on which we should judge electoral systems should not be party advantage or what is best for us; it should be what is best for the people.

Although no electoral system is perfect, first past the post is the worst of all possible worlds. The winner takes all and the resultant triumphalism can lead to a one-party state. It can also lead to a party with less than half the votes winning a massive majority of seats—that applies to the Labour party's representation in the House of Commons and it applied when the Tory party was in power. As a result, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have treated Parliament as a mere rubber stamp. It is difficult for the House of Commons to bring such elected dictatorships to account.

A similar situation sometimes arises in local government. The losers are the people, as the ruling group is not sufficiently accountable to the people as a whole, especially if it consists of representatives of only one party and that party received the support of less than half the electorate.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Where is the accountability to the electorate in relation to the members who were elected to the Scottish Parliament on the list system and have been sacked by their party before the electorate have had the opportunity to give a verdict? Does the member agree that there are flaws in all systems and that we must identify which flaws we can live with?

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

I am coming to that point.

First past the post does not serve the people well and should be replaced by PR. If we believe in real democracy, it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the principle that a party's share of the seats in any council or Parliament should be roughly the same as that party's share of the vote.

If we want to move towards PR, we must consider which system of PR would be suitable. We do not have time in today's debate to examine the merits of every PR system. The two favourite systems seem to be the single transferable vote system and the additional member system.

Although the additional member system is certainly better than first past the post, it has big disadvantages. That brings me to the point that Johann Lamont raised. The experience of the Scottish Parliament has revealed the disadvantages of the additional member system. Constituency MSPs were elected under the first-past-the-post system, whereas regional MSPs were elected from party lists. As a result, there is sometimes rivalry, jealousy or even downright hostility between the constituency members and the regional members. Such enmity is not in the best interests of the people whom we were elected to serve.

The additional member system also gives too much power to the party bosses or a small clique of party activists to determine who is on the party list and the ranking on that list. Why not give the people the right to decide who is number 1, who is number 2 and who is number 3? That is what the single transferable vote does and that is why I think that STV is a better option. It gives more power to the people rather than to political parties and it ensures that all members are elected under the same system rather than under a two-tier system. It also retains a strong link between the elected members and the people whom they represent.

For all those reasons, I support STV for local government elections as well as for parliamentary elections. I am pleased to give my support in principle to Tricia Marwick's bill.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 10:48 am, 6th February 2003

I remind members of the Labour party and of the Scottish Liberal Democrats that when Donald Dewar—bless his soul—was alive, he reminded us that the agreement that we signed up to was about electoral reform in general. It did not focus on any one part of the programme.

Thanks to our partnership, we have made good progress on electoral reform across Scotland. We have moved to a situation in which the postal vote means that any member of the public in Scotland can go to the polls. That represents a major and radical step. We have ensured total accessibility for the public, as disabled people can now get to the polling stations. We are considering pilot schemes that would allow voting to take place in new locations such as supermarkets. By focusing on electoral reform, the partnership has made those developments possible.

Much has been said about Tullymandering—the issue that Professor Bill Miller brought to the attention of the Local Government Committee when he gave evidence. He said that a serious weakness of Tricia Marwick's bill was the fact that it might result in Tullymandering. I ask members to look at Professor Miller's written evidence in more detail:

"PR systems can be fiddled by adjusting the number of seats per constituency. (A famous example is the Irish 'Tullymander'.) A PR system becomes more proportionate as the number of seats per constituency increases - up to maximum proportionality when the entire country is treated as one constituency containing all the seats. Thus the larger parties in the Czech Parliament recently agreed to have more constituencies (and fewer seats per constituency) which would benefit them at the expense of the smaller parties. Conversely a full-country constituency containing all the seats (and without a percentage 'threshold') is notorious for giving representation - and thus a voice - to extremists."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does Helen Eadie regard the situation in Glasgow City Council as being democratic in any sense of the word that she understands?

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Let me finish my quote:

"Professor Curtice recommended a moderate choice of 8 seats per constituency - roughly equivalent to a ten percent threshold. The Bill's proposals go beyond the Irish example (between 5 and 3 seats per constituency) and have constituencies ranging from 5 seats (somewhat proportional) down to a mere 2 seats (scarcely proportional - almost majoritarian)."

Tricia Marwick's agenda is political manipulation rather than, as she claimed, fairness and accessibility for the voters. Her hidden agenda is to get more control for her party rather than for the people of this country.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 10:51 am, 6th February 2003

As people may have noticed, I do not have a ministerial Mondeo and I have shown that I am prepared to vote against the Executive if I think that it is seriously wrong on an important issue. I am totally committed to PR for all levels of government, so it might help our SNP and Tory colleagues, who are busy impugning our good faith, if I explain why I will not support the bill.

Tricia Marwick quoted at me my over-optimistic forecast from two and a half years ago, but many of us make forecasts that are over-optimistic. I thought that the crunch time for deciding on PR for local government would come towards the latter part of this session. However, as Mike Rumbles said, it is clear that the crunch will come at the election, when each party will fight for or against PR according to its manifesto. If there is no majority party, the crunch will come after the election, when negotiations take place.

The fact is that we will get PR for local government only with the votes—not just the moral support—of either the Labour party or the Tory party. The Tory party is in the unique position that its MSPs think that the Parliament would be better without them—I know of no other political body that would maintain such a belief—so our task has been to persuade the Labour party. As John McAllion said, we have made some progress in persuading individuals, but it is quite clear that the majority of Labour members—especially councillors, for obvious reasons—are against PR. However, we have made progress to the extent of having a draft bill, which sets out a system of STV, on which we can vote after the election. We have made progress.

Rightly or wrongly, the Liberal Democrats' view is that progress towards achieving PR—which is what we are totally committed to—would not be promoted if the Executive parties were to split on a straight vote for or against a proposal for PR. The amendment—flawed though it is because of the stupid standing orders that we seem to have—at least indicates a way forward. We are not as lily livered as we are made out to be. We have the guts to vote in an unpopular way to try to achieve our long-term objectives.

The SNP has given two strong commitments today. The first is to elections using STV, which I support. The second is to embarrass the Liberal Democrats. That may be good fun and very easy, but it honestly does not help.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We have had a good discussion. The closing speeches should be tight and keep to the appropriate times. Members should address the arguments and not rerun the debate. I call Robert Brown for the Liberal Democrats, who has three minutes.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 10:54 am, 6th February 2003

I pay tribute to Dennis Canavan for his well laid out and tight speech in support of what we seek to achieve. I confess that I was struck by the thought that his speech was in stark contrast to the rather petty ranting with which Tricia Marwick introduced the debate. When will the SNP learn that the chamber is not to be treated as an audience for rants and personalised attacks on the principles of other members? This is a consensual chamber, where people require to be persuaded of the merits of a case.

Today's debate is not about principles; it is about tactics. No one doubts the Liberal Democrats' principles on PR or our commitment to reforming the undemocratic system of election—

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Some say that they do, but no one really doubts our commitment. Indeed, no one doubts the principles of the SNP on PR. I would not dream of impugning the views that Tricia Marwick and others take. The difference between us is one of arithmetic. The party that cannot add up its economic and financial figures for its case for independence claims that 16 plus 33 plus 5—which is 54—is greater than 55 plus 19, which is 74. Bill Butler made clear what the position of the Labour party would be in the event of the Liberal Democrat amendment being defeated.

Anyone with an ounce of sense and political nous knows that Parliament cannot introduce PR for local government without the backing of the Labour party. Everyone also knows that PR will happen in the next parliamentary session and that its prospects are best aided by the return of more Liberal Democrats. It is no secret that many of our Labour colleagues recognise that.

I pay tribute to the good faith of Labour colleagues on PR. Although it is unlikely that the Parliament would have been elected using PR without the Liberal Democrats, it is also the case that that would not have happened without the willingness of Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell and many others to engage in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. In the convention, they negotiated and delivered what was best for Scotland, rather than what was best for the Labour party. The outcome might be said to be against the Labour party's short-term interests. That was a major act of statesmanship.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am afraid that I do not have time, as I have only three minutes.

Such statesmanship was emulated neither by the SNP nor by the Tories, whose boycotting of the convention lost them the opportunity to help to shape the future of Scotland.

Tricia Marwick's bill is in fact an expensive press release. I am not prepared to give the enemies of PR the satisfaction of seeing the chamber vote against PR today. The Executive bill will deliver PR for local government after the next election. When that happens, the SNP bill will be seen for the self-serving tat that it is.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 10:57 am, 6th February 2003

I found it interesting that Donald Gorrie is so keen to maintain the Tory presence in the Parliament. We thank him very much for that and hope that that comes out in the next election.

I want to comment on two or three points that have been made today. Tricia Marwick opened the debate with the simple statement that, despite their pledges, the coalition parties have made no progress towards PR in this Parliament. That is a fact. Another fact that I do not dispute is Iain Smith's guarantee that the Liberal Democrats are 100 per cent committed to PR. The issue seems to boil down to whose bill will be adopted and how that will spin out. To as dispassionate an observer on the subject as me, that seems to be the crux of the matter—at least, that is how it comes across.

I heard a little hint but no real argument from members on the Liberal Democrat benches on why they could not support the principle of PR today. That did not come out clearly.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I will give way after I have made my point.

The SNP did not make a good job of describing all the nuances attached to the Proportional Representation (Local Government Elections) (Scotland) Bill. The bill is very simplistic and Tory members think that it is quite flawed. However, what people outside will focus on at the end of today's debate is the inconsistencies in the Liberal approach. The issue seems to be whose ball we should play with. That is the sort of pettiness that has crept into the debate and it has produced a nasty edge.

There have been some good speeches, but before I discuss them, I give way to Iain Smith.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

The reason that David Davidson has not heard the Liberal Democrats say anything today about why we are against the principle of PR is because we are not against it. We will support the principle of PR today. The way to achieve PR is through the Liberal Democrat and Labour Executive's approach in the local governance (Scotland) bill.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I thank the member for that explanation.

The speeches from Dennis Canavan and Bill Butler moved the debate on because they were clear and said precisely what they were looking for.

My colleagues Keith Harding and John Young made it clear that we do not believe that PR for local government should be introduced at this time. Local government is a different animal from the Parliament. People are dissatisfied with the parliamentary election process; we have heard that again this morning. We certainly do not support the bill but that has nothing to do with whether it is flawed. We are simply against the principle at this time.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I believe that I am in my final minute.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am afraid that we are tight for time.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

In simple terms, we do not want to lose the link between councillors and the people they represent. Accountability is the name of the game. PR confuses accountability in the parliamentary system, as Dennis Canavan highlighted.

If we want strong local government, there must be direct linkage and accountability so that what councils do or do not do can be seen and so that they can be held to account. When there are mixed messages in local government, people get confused. We will not support the bill. At the same time, we are surprised that the Liberals cannot bring themselves to do so.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 11:01 am, 6th February 2003

I am pleased to speak in the debate, particularly because I wrote the SNP's submission to the McIntosh commission five years ago. I also moved that STV be SNP policy for local government and all other elections.

I remind Robert Brown, who said that the bill is self-serving tat, and Helen Eadie, who said that the bill is purely about self-interest in the SNP, that the SNP is trying to obtain a majority of seats so that we can have a referendum on independence. In a first-past-the-post system, the SNP would clearly achieve a majority with 37 or 38 per cent of the vote. In a PR system we would need close to 50 per cent of the vote. We do not support the bill in order to further the aims of our party. At local government level, while we might gain some seats in some parts of the country, we would lose seats in others. We would be likely to see a quadruple alliance of new Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and independents—as exists in Perth and Kinross—ganging up against the SNP.

We are in favour of PR because it is in the interests of the voters, as Dennis Canavan and John McAllion said. At the previous Scottish local government elections, 59 wards had no contest—people had no choice in those wards.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

In a second.

The Conservative party contested less than half the wards in Scotland and the Liberals contested barely more than one third. The Liberals did not put up a single candidate in any of the 92 Ayrshire wards—their party is not a national party in Scotland. We want to give the voters a choice, but even Labour contested only three-quarters of the seats and the SNP only five out of six.

In huge swathes of Scotland, people did not have a choice. In Stewart Stevenson's constituency, five SNP councillors were elected unopposed. I ask those who say that they are against PR if they seriously think that Labour and Conservative voters should not have had a choice in those elections. PR would have given them that choice and would attract a better quality of person to stand for local government.

A lot of nonsense has been spoken about ward links, which Bill Butler did not mention but Sylvia Jackson did. In 1992, Bill Butler contested the Blairdardie ward in Anniesland; in 1995 he contested Greenfield in Baillieston; and in 1999 he contested Tollcross in Shettleston. Around Glasgow—and in other local authorities—there is a series of musical chairs: when people are deselected in one part of the city, they move elsewhere.

Let me move on to the Liberals. What a pitiful, shameful and embarrassing contribution they have given us. The bill is about principles, but the Liberals are basically saying, "We might not actually win the vote so maybe we should just sit on our hands." If we all thought that about every debate, there would only have been one or two divisions in the chamber. The SNP would say "We are going to lose this vote; we'll not bother turning up today."

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Be quiet for a second. For God's sake, let me speak.

That is a fig leaf and the Liberals should be utterly ashamed of themselves. They have pulled a rabbit out of a hat with the draft bill that they produced today and I repeat that, really, they should be ashamed of themselves.

I say to Labour colleagues that what goes around comes around. Yes, traditionally, the Labour party might have had the majority of seats—that is certainly true of some parts of Scotland. However, things are not always going to be like that. In the past few months, Labour has lost overall control in Aberdeen, Fife and Renfrewshire, and it lost Falkirk 18 months ago.

A few years from now, when we have a SNP executive, the Labour members might be the ones who are squealing for PR if they do not deliver on Tricia Marwick's bill. I ask all colleagues to give the voters a choice, to support PR in local government, and to support the principles of the bill.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 11:05 am, 6th February 2003

As we would expect in such a debate, many points of deep principle underlie the comments of colleagues across the chamber, because people have strongly-held views. However, nothing that has been said encourages me to change my views on Tricia Marwick's bill.

From what has been said today, it is clear that Tricia Marwick's approach to the bill is fundamentally flawed. Sylvia Jackson, Bill Butler, Iain Smith, Mike Rumbles and Robert Brown all gave astute analyses of the bill and showed why it is flawed. As Robert Brown said, and as I tried to indicate in my opening remarks, the bill is more a very expensive press release or SNP stunt than a genuine commitment to change local democracy.

The bill is flawed because it deals with only one aspect of the renewing local democracy agenda. Helen Eadie pointed to several areas where we have already made progress and tried to widen the scope for people to take part in local democratic exercises. Our approach is to consider local democracy in the round, not just a single aspect of it.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The minister has talked about democracy and said that PR will attract greater interest from the electorate. If that is true, will he explain why only 24.3 per cent of people in Scotland turned out for the one election that we have had under PR—the last European election?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Some people argue that PR would make a difference to turnout, but that is by no means the only issue. The main example of how we can change electoral behaviour came from a recent by-election in Stirling. As Helen Eadie pointed out, we brought in new provisions that allowed people to vote by post and the turnout in that local authority by-election rose to 62 per cent. That is the progress that we want to make and it illustrates the point that we cannot consider just one aspect of renewing local democracy—we have to consider all the issues and how they interlink. That is why we do not support the bill and, as I indicated in my opening remarks, the bill fails that test.

The Local Government Committee report concluded that the bill is clearly flawed. There is no indication of a timetable for introducing the bill's provisions and no indication of the process that would have to be put in place if the new system is to become operational. There is no recognition of the administrative issues involved in putting such a system in place. As committee members and others have said, there is no evidence that anyone—let alone the people who would be responsible for the implementation of a new electoral system—was consulted. The introduction of STV would mean that the boundary commission would have to make recommendations on new electoral wards, which would be time-consuming. The financial memorandum's comments on the boundary commission are flawed and inaccurate.

As I, and many other members, have said, the bill is unnecessary because the Executive is already active on electoral reform issues. Unlike Tricia Marwick, we have taken a sensible and measured approach to those issues and considered local government in the round—we have not looked for a quick win on one issue.

The local governance bill sets electoral reform alongside several key governance issues, including remuneration for councillors and how we can encourage a wider range of people to stand for election. Those are important issues for local government in Scotland and for our communities, and they should be considered together. Concern for renewing local democracy is not just about the electoral system but about ensuring that communities interact with their local authority and have an effective and representative voice. That is vital if we are to ensure that local government reflects the needs and diversity of communities throughout Scotland.

Unlike Tricia Marwick, we have consulted widely and effectively on the Executive's proposals in the draft bill. We have considered local governance in the round rather than taking a narrow view of one particular issue. The issues affect people who take local decisions about local priorities and vital local public services, such as education, social work, housing and transport. They are big issues for local government in Scotland and for our communities. They impact on one another and must be considered together. It is not right to consider the electoral system in isolation, as Tricia Marwick has sought to do.

We believe that the bill is fundamentally opportunistic, badly motivated and ill conceived. In any event, it would not make any changes to the electoral system until 2007 at the earliest. The Executive opposes the bill because it offers no advantages, and we will support Iain Smith's amendment.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 11:09 am, 6th February 2003

In years to come, the Liberal Democrats will look back on this day and feel ashamed. We have the only policy that the Liberal Democrats have ever espoused—PR for local government—and they are taking the opportunity to vote against it. Folk such as Chic Brodie, who is a hero of the Liberal Democrat movement—he is the guy who was lauded for moving aside to allow Roy Jenkins to stand in Hillhead—are resigning from the Liberal Democrats because they believe that the party has sold out and lost the place on PR for local government. When a long-standing activist of the stature of Chic Brodie says that, the crowd who are in here allegedly representing Liberal Democrat voters ought to be ashamed. The fact that they protest when I say that they should feel ashamed shows that they have abandoned any vestige of their principles.

Mike Russell mentioned the timeline. It is important that, in the concluding part of the debate, we are reminded of the timeline for PR for local government in the Scottish Parliament. The partnership document said that immediate progress would be made on PR. In July 1999, the McIntosh commission report was issued and we debated it in this chamber. McIntosh said that there should be PR for local government, but he did not specify the form. Then another consultation was set up. The Kerley working group reported in June 2000 that the system of PR that would best meet the criteria set down by McIntosh, including maintaining the councillor-ward link, was PRSTV. The Executive's response was to set up a working party, which was established in August 2000. The working party met only three times between August 2000 and February 2001. That was the kind of progress that was being made. The motion on my bill was lodged in November 2001. In June 2002 my bill, which, as I have already said, was drafted privately, was introduced in the Scottish Parliament.

What did the Executive do in June 2002? It announced yet another consultation and, over the summer months, it consulted yet again. In September 2002, it announced that it would introduce a local governance bill. When did that bill appear? On the very day that my bill was being considered by the Local Government Committee. Those were exactly the same tactics that Labour and the Liberal Democrats used with Alex Neil's Public Appointments (Parliamentary Approval) (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

No, I will not give way. I have only seven minutes. Robert Brown has had his say—he should sit down, because he has said enough.

The next time the local governance bill was mentioned was two days before today's debate. That shows the timeline that we are dealing with, and it shows that the Liberal Democrats have achieved nothing on PR in this Parliament, apart from a bit of paper. Poor Iain Smith even moved an amendment at the Local Government Committee so that the paper would be referred to as a bill rather than a draft bill.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I will not give way.

That is the extent of the desperation of the Liberal Democrats in pretending that they have made progress on PR.

Bill Butler's contribution was a Bill Butler contribution, but it would have been a more honest contribution if he had used his argument and his time to oppose PR, rather than to make the spurious argument that the bill could not be supported because it was flawed in some way. If it was 100 per cent the most wonderful bill on PR, he still would not have supported it. That would have been an honest position.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Sit down. We have had enough of Iain Smith.

Helen Eadie quoted Professor Bill Miller, the so-called independent person who gave evidence to the Local Government Committee.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Sit down.

Bill Miller has been opposed to PR for as long as I can remember.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

No.

In particular, Helen Eadie quoted Bill Miller's evidence that my bill proposes a minimum of two and a maximum of five councillors. In fact, that is not set down in my bill at all. Bill Miller was forced to admit in evidence that he had merely skimmed through the bill and that that proposal came from the Kerley report, not from my bill. That shows the quality of the evidence that the Local Government Committee heard.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

In my opening speech I asked Tricia Marwick to answer a couple of questions. I should ask them again. First, does she think that it serves the interests of PR for local government if the Parliament today votes against it—we have heard from Bill Butler and Keith Harding that it will—and if my amendment is not agreed to? Secondly, how will PR be implemented in the next Parliament if the ministers in the next Government do not support it? They will be required to implement it, and if they do not implement it, nothing will happen. Tricia Marwick's bill will not deliver PR for local government.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I will tell Iain Smith how PR will be introduced in the next Parliament: the SNP Executive will introduce it—no ifs, no buts and no partnerships.

A majority of MSPs—73 out of 129—believe in PR for local government. All it needs is for those who believe in PR to vote for PR. John McAllion believes in PR, and he will vote for PR, but the party that claims to support PR for local government is voting against it. That is disgraceful and shameful.