Withdrawal of Scottish Statutory Instruments

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 7 October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is consideration of two Scottish Government motions. I ask John Swinney, on behalf of the Scottish Government, to speak to and move motions S6M-01597 and S6M-01598, on withdrawal of Scottish statutory instruments.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It is vital for local democracy and local service delivery that councils are as representative as possible of the communities that they serve. Following the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, Boundaries Scotland has reviewed the council ward boundaries of all local authorities with inhabited islands and submitted its recommendations to ministers.

The Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020 removed ministerial discretion to reject or modify such proposals. The decision on whether to implement Boundaries Scotland’s recommendations now rests exclusively with Parliament. The Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee has considered each of the reviews, and I agree with the committee’s assessment that Boundaries Scotland has discharged its duties in a professional and competent manner.

The committee disagreed with some of the recommendations for Highland Council and Argyll and Bute Council. As a consequence of that decision by the committee, I consider that the appropriate action for ministers to take is to ask Boundaries Scotland to take a further look at the proposals.

Yesterday, Parliament agreed to the reviews for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and North Ayrshire Council. Those changes will therefore be in place for the local government elections in May 2022.

It is regrettable that there was not sufficient agreement to allow the wards for Highland Council and Argyll and Bute Council to be updated in time for the 2022 elections. The committee has called for the councils involved to engage with Boundaries Scotland on new reviews for those areas. I echo that call.

However, I stress to members that an independent boundary commission is widely considered to be a key feature of democratic societies. It will not always be possible for Boundaries Scotland to resolve all concerns that are raised, but I believe that Parliament should have confidence in how Boundaries Scotland carries out its functions.

We will monitor progress with the new reviews closely, and will include that experience in our post-legislative assessment of the new laws surrounding boundary reviews. I therefore propose that the instruments in relation to Highland and Argyll and Bute councils be withdrawn.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Highland (Electoral Arrangements) Regulations 2021 [draft] be withdrawn.

That the Parliament agrees that the Argyll and Bute (Electoral Arrangements) Regulations 2021 [draft] be withdrawn.

The Presiding Officer:

The questions on the motions will be put at decision time.