Section 23 — Short title and commencement

Local Governance (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:15 pm on 23 June 2004.

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Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

At stage 2, the minister, Tavish Scott, and various members, including David Mundell and Iain Smith, equated the idea of a referendum with consultation. I do not ask for further consultation. I think that we all agree that there has been enough consultation. My proposal is that we should give the people of Scotland a choice in a referendum. At stage 2, Bruce McFee said that my proposal was about political expediency, but my idea came from a gut feeling—the feeling that was spoken about in this afternoon's time for reflection—that it is the right thing for the people of Scotland.

The case for a referendum on the future of local government in Scotland exposes all those who reject the idea. To reject a referendum is a serious political error on all our parts. This is the moment to decide whether voter apathy can be reversed; the method by which to reverse it is to engage the public in a national debate. If we do not do that, our relationship with the public will continue to erode and that will undermine our ambitions indefinitely—our arrogance will cost us dearly. Are we, each and every one of us in the chamber, afraid to engage with the public? Are we afraid of elections and of taking the debate into communities? I am not sure why members are afraid of a referendum, but I think that it is because they are afraid to explain the complexity of the system to the public.

Another reason to favour a referendum is that it would surrender political power to popular power. It would say to the people, "We, the political class, are failing you. We have not listened enough. We have not been interested in hearing your voices except once every four years. We face a desperate need to find new routes to public trust, so we are letting go." That would be the answer.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

In a moment.

John Smith said throughout his life that we should always have a referendum when we consider constitutional changes. The bill represents a constitutional change. The Tories gave massive amounts of energy to the European constitution and they said that we should have a referendum. Local government is every bit as important as that, if not more important, so why are members rejecting the idea of a referendum?

John Smith also said, within the Labour Party, that there should not be a change to our voting system without a referendum. That idea was carried by the trade unions, by the Labour Party and by every subsequent Labour Party conference. Our manifestos in 1999 and 2003 were silent about any constitutional change, but here we are, about to take the people of our country for granted by not engaging with them. It is vital to engage our people. I for one would be happy to hold meetings throughout my constituency if the Parliament decided to hold a referendum.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Does Helen Eadie concede that the European constitution will transfer a massive level of power from one Parliament to another but that it does not refer to the election system for European Parliament members? The two issues cannot be compared when talking about referenda.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

That is absolute nonsense. In case any of us missed it, I should say that when Professor Plant produced his report—which was of major importance for all of us in this country—he said that the whole idea of proportional representation was to retain as much power and control as possible at the centre. That is what Westminster has done to Scotland and that is what we are about to do to local government. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

That is what we are about to do to the people for whom local government matters most. Proportional representation is always about holding power at the centre; it does not devolve power. I will always vote against proportional representation. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I challenge each and every member to take the debate to the country. Members are afraid.

I move amendment 24.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

A considerable number of members wish to speak and I tell them now that I will not be able to call them all.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I do not agree, of course, with the proposal that Helen Eadie eloquently made. We have waited five years for the bill. Helen Eadie and others have lost the argument.

Amendment 24 comes from a member who opposes fair votes for the people of Scotland. Every measure of public opinion that has been taken in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom supports the move away from what is in effect a corrupt first-past-the-post system to a system of fair votes, such as that which the bill will institute for the people of Scotland. Helen Eadie has lost the argument.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

If the member thinks that the system has so much support, why is he scared to put it to the people?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

My party fought the previous Scottish Parliament election with the proposed system as a major plank of our policies. The system of parliamentary democracy involves taking decisions that are in the best interests of the people of Scotland.

I would not have minded having a referendum in the early days of the previous parliamentary session, but we have waited five long years for the bill to be introduced. Amendment 24 is a last-ditch attempt to delay the process further and I urge the Parliament to reject it.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I am pleased to support amendments 24 and 25 in Helen Eadie's name. We have heard much talk about democracy. If the Parliament imposes the proposed major change in how our citizens are governed locally without their direct involvement, that will be an affront to local democracy in Scotland.

The Parliament must recognise that PR for local government is not simply a policy issue; it is a major constitutional change to another tier of government that will affect directly the democratic system in this country. It will change the relationship between the electorate and their local representatives and it has implications for accountability, representation and local democracy. The bottom line is that the PR proposal has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with coalition politics.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities briefing quoted the Westminster Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee, which questioned the

"strange decision by the Scottish Executive to introduce STV for local government elections, when the overwhelming majority of local councils oppose such a move, and there is scope for causing confusion amongst electors."

I accept the legitimate arguments from both sides about the merits or otherwise of PR, but I do not accept that we can debate that sufficiently and make decisions without the input of those who will be affected. To dictate such a fundamental and far-reaching change to the governance of Scotland in the high-handed fashion that has been adopted is arrogant effrontery against our citizens. They expect better from us.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:30, 23 June 2004

I acknowledge the spirit with which Helen Eadie expresses her views and I understand but do not agree with the passionate words that she uttered a moment ago. Similar amendments were discussed but not moved at stage 2 and I respectfully suggest that the arguments remain the same. There was extensive consultation on the subject even before the partnership agreement was concluded last May. The key measures in the bill have been subject to consultation during recent years and they have attracted considerable interest and debate since they were first aired in the McIntosh report.

The responses to the most recent white paper showed a significant majority in favour of the introduction of the single transferable vote—960 responses were in favour whereas only 39 were not. Even if we discount the pro-STV postcard campaign, that still leaves a significant majority in favour of STV. There is no need for a referendum of the kind proposed in amendment 24 and I ask respectfully that Helen Eadie withdraws her amendment.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Ms Eadie, do you want to press or withdraw amendment 24?

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I will press both my amendments.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 24 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 13

For: Eadie, Helen, Smith, Elaine
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kane, Rosie, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 110, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 24 disagreed to.

[Amendment 25 moved—[Helen Eadie].]

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 25 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 14

For: Eadie, Helen, Smith, Elaine
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kane, Rosie, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 110, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 25 disagreed to.