Why research is so important to our campaign
Across this year, our research team has continued to conduct independent, in-depth and timely research into the state of our political system. Conducting high-quality research is key to achieving our strategic goals as it provides the evidence base for our policy and campaigns. Findings are fed into government consultations, presented to select committees and quoted in parliament as well as shaping and driving our commentary in the media.
In March, we published Democracy Made in England: Where Next for English Local Government?. In this report, we made the case that it is not for Westminster to decide how local communities should see themselves and how they should be governed, but to set out how those communities can choose their own governance, how citizens can themselves reinvigorate local democracy.
We set out a series of concrete reforms calling for a clear framework for devolving power to local authorities, reforming English local government elections with proportional representation and the creation of an elected House of Lords with representation from all nations, regions and local areas of the UK.
With devolution on the agenda for all political parties, this piece of work allowed us to show how electoral reform plays a crucial role in sharing power and should be a central part of the Government’s and other parties’ devolution proposals. As part of our research we surveyed all local councillors in England on their views about local power and electoral reform. This was also a great opportunity to connect with local representatives about these issues. The report was well received and we will be using it as the framework for our continuing work on rebalancing power.
As the leading campaign for your democratic rights, the ERS works closely with top academics from across the UK and internationally, and this year we commissioned elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice to conduct analysis of the 2017 Scottish Local Election results.
The Power of Preferences: STV in Scottish Local Elections explores how, after several elections under their belts, the voters of Scotland have utilised the power of the Single Transferable Vote. The results show an electorate that has embraced this new form of voting – ranking their preferences instead of being forced by a winner-takes-all system to take a gamble on one option, which they often view as the least worst.
Scottish local elections are an opportunity to show how STV works in practice. We have produced reports on these elections since the first STV election in 2007. This series allows us to see how voters have used the system over successive elections. These reports also help us explain and demonstrate how STV works for those who are unfamiliar with it.
After this year’s Scottish local elections, the ERS research team continued to build an extensive and unique dataset of the results, and we are again working with Professor Sir John Curtice to produce a new report that will be published in the near future.
Relative to the rest of the UK, Scotland has made progress when it comes to electoral reform. Yet much more can, and must, be achieved when it comes to building a Scottish democracy fit for the challenges of the 21st Century. Our team at ERS Scotland have been working hard to put local democracy reform at the heart of this discussion, so to coincide with the local elections we co-authored a pamphlet By Us and for Us: How Scottish local democracy can build and strengthen community.
Informed by over a decade of testing out innovative forms of citizen-led decision-making, this pamphlet sets out a vision of how we can revive local democracy in Scotland. We hope for this to be a provocation to all who are interested in local democracy, stimulating the creativity and imagination required to think that something different might be possible.
In November, ERS Cymru published Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the case for STV, an analysis of the local elections in Wales, which highlighted the problems of a First Past the Post election. With councils in Wales now able to vote to move to STV this report made the case for councillors to grasp the nettle, highlighting the benefits of Scotland’s move to STV and showing how this compared to a more disproportionate election under FPTP.
Another important aspect of our research is understanding how people think about democracy and the types of reforms that we campaign on. This helps us to understand our campaign environment better and to persuade political parties of the importance of these issues for voters.
Earlier in the year, we collaborated with IPPR to produce Road to Renewal – a joint research project that sets out the case for democratic reform highlighting how far away from our politics ordinary voters feel.
We have held a number of meetings and events this year sharing our findings. We also completed a piece of research looking at attitudes to democracy, politics and democratic reform. This research is aimed at raising salience of democracy issues and encouraging more members of the public to engage in democracy campaigning. We have shared these findings with our fellow democracy campaigners across the sector so they can also use this learning.