Scottish Elections

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 28 June 2007.

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Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 12:00, 28 June 2007

To ask the First Minister what discussions the Executive intends to have with the United Kingdom Government on the future conduct of Scottish elections following the University of Strathclyde's investigation into the causes of the rejected ballots. (S3F-112)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is committed to holding an inquiry into the 3 May elections. We have an interest in common with the United Kingdom Government in ensuring that public confidence is maintained in the integrity of the electoral process. However, we are still considering the options for such an inquiry. As a result, although I do not wish to anticipate the conclusions of the Gould inquiry, I confirm that, at the appropriate time, we will wish to discuss the issue with the UK Government to try to progress towards an independent inquiry.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

On 4 May, immediately after the election, the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, said that he would mount an independent judicial inquiry into the "debacle"; that it would

"have the fullest powers and the most searching remit"; and that it would

"be charged with laying bare the outrage of why over 100,000 Scots were denied their democratic" vote.

Will the First Minister update us in more detail on the progress that has been made in establishing such an inquiry? What discussions has he had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the issue? Will he press the case for this Parliament to be elected by the fairer and more easily understood single transferable vote system, which was so successfully introduced for the Scottish council elections?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Although I have some sympathy for the member's final point, we should try to separate the confusion and the totally unacceptable number of spoiled ballot papers in the election from our preferences for new electoral systems.

I hope to make progress on the issue. The new Secretary of State for Scotland and I will discuss the matter in order to have, as I would hope, a joint inquiry. I do not see much utility in having two separate inquiries because, as Iain Smith must know, although we have province over the local elections, the Secretary of State for Scotland has province over the Scottish Parliament's election systems. The situation strikes me as very curious, but nonetheless that is how it is.

I do not think that we should prejudge or jump to any conclusions on the matter. I read an article on the Sunday Herald's front page entitled "Labour MSPs blame Alexander for poll fiasco". I would never have jumped to such a conclusion in case I was accused of upsetting the former Secretary of State for Scotland.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The First Minister described as "curious" the situation in which we have control of neither the legislation for nor the administration of elections to this Parliament. Regardless of the outcome of any inquiry into what happened at the most recent election, is there not a principled reason for changing the situation? Will the First Minister use his new lines of communication with the other devolved UK Administrations to make a joint case to the UK Government that every democratic institution in this country should be in control of its own elections?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Not for the first time I agree with Patrick Harvie. Any self-respecting Parliament should, in principle, be in control of its own electoral system.