ERS Scotland make the case for democratic reform at Scottish Labour conference

Jonathon Shafi, ERS Scotland Campaigns Organiser

Posted on the 20th February 2024

Along with Labour For a New Democracy, we were at last weekend’s Scottish Labour conference to talk to attendees, as well as co-sponsor a well-attended fringe event.

Under the title, Westminster Isn’t Working: How Can Labour Fix Our Broken Politics? participants discussed a range of issues – with special mention to the audience for their perceptive and interesting questions.

The UK has gone through a period of turmoil and volatility which has polarised society and degraded institutions. Millions of people feel alienated from official politics, while trust is at an all-time low. There is no single reason for this, nor the shocks of recent years, here or internationally. But at its core is the need for democratic renewal.

This raises some big questions. What does a democracy fit for the challenges of the 21st Century look like? How should nations and regions interact? What role should local communities play? How can we make votes count equally? And what should an incoming Labour government do?

In assessing these topics, Willie Sullivan, representing ERS Scotland and chairing the panel, put the issues in context, arguing that, “reform is sometimes seen as risky, but the world is changing all around us, and our institutions have to evolve so that we can meet the big challenges of the era. Democracy is a process, and ours is in need for renewal.”

Labour MSP, Paul Sweeney, drew upon the need for real engagement with voters: “There’s a deep sense of alienation in our society, and a feeling that democracy doesn’t function well. Half of votes don’t count, and that produces a deep sense of discontent with the status quo.”

Building on this, Caroline Osborne, from Labour for a New Democracy argued that democratic reform is not an optional extra: “This conference is all about change but to ensure it is meaningful we need to fix the root cause of the issue and introduce a voting system that works for all of us.”

Lynn Henderson, Chair of the trade union campaign, Politics For The Many, argued the period ahead represents a key opening for advocates of electoral reform: “The burden of proof should rest with those that support FPTP. This is a pivotal moment and the first time since Keir Hardie that Labour is in a position to be elected with pro PR policy.”

Prospective Labour candidate for the coming general election, Zubir Ahmed, told of his own political journey: “I initially thought we wouldn’t have a stable government under PR. But we’ve had anarchy and instability in recent years – and that was under FPTP. That volatility is fed by the system that currently exists.”

Across the conference, the ERS Scotland team were busy meeting with politicians, journalists and activists – making the positive case for proportional representation.

Campaigners are now gearing up to ensure that democracy is central to the debate during the election – and to pave the way for real reform going forward.

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