At ERS Scotland we are constantly monitoring the political seas and updating our course to make sure we have the proper heading. Following this year’s local elections, the elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2021, and Westminster in 2019, we wanted to give an idea of what we are looking to achieve in the coming years.
The constitutional question continues to shape the nature of Scottish politics. But, Scotland is also distinct from other parts of the United Kingdom in terms of how its democracy functions. While Westminster is elected through First Past the Post, the Scottish Parliament uses proportional representation and local elections have used the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system since 2007.
In relative terms, Scotland is making progress when it comes to electoral reform. Indeed, we are working with our Welsh colleagues to use Scotland’s experience of STV as an example to aid their campaigning, including with a series of films to be released soon.
Yet much more can, and must, be achieved when it comes to building a Scottish democracy fit for the challenges of the 21st Century.
Reforming Local Democracy
ERS Scotland has been working hard to put the reform of local democracy at the heart of this discussion. Our research team, alongside Sir John Curtice, are bringing together an analysis of the 2022 council elections to look at turnout, the geographical distribution of votes and more. We have organised both locally and nationally to bring communities and stakeholders together to help design what a revamped Scottish local government might look like. With the Local Democracy Bill due to make its way through Holyrood in this parliamentary session, there is a chance to make bold, and radical, changes.
Such an approach not only has the potential to empower localities, but can play a role in rebuilding communities across Scotland. Our recent pamphlet, By Us and For Us, explores this in more detail.
Those communities have, of course, endured a pandemic since the start of 2021. Despite the great difficulties, it has also been a time when people have come together to support one another. Mutual aid teams, the delivery of meals to the most vulnerable and the sense of solidarity that emerged has generated new advocates for a truly local democracy that can be responsive to national, or even global, crises.
Part of our focus going forward is to bring these people together with groups and organisations, including political parties, into a strong network who are supportive of local democratic reform. That work has been developing over a period of years, and as we move forward the aim is to re-energise and broaden this coalition.
We hope this will lead to higher levels of engagement in future local elections. New democratic innovations, such as the Citizens’ Assembly, should become an accepted part of local government structures. In doing so, this might rebuild trust in institutions and increase engagement between citizens and their local democracy. In that spirit we are working to create models to experiment with new forms of local democracy. By piloting our ideas in practice, we can bring our ideas to life, and through this process inspire real change.
At a national level, we were on the Institutionalising Participatory Democracy Working Group which recommends how change can be delivered to make Scotland’s democracy more participative and inclusive. It’s proposed next steps incorporate processes for participatory and deliberative democracy into the democratic system. We will work to ensure these recommendations are listened to and implemented.
Scottish Lobbying Transparency
In addition to this, ERS Scotland looks forward to continuing work with our partners in the Scottish Alliance on Lobbying Transparency. Here we will provide supporting research and information on questions arising around lobbying and the Scottish Parliament. This includes working with the Chair and members of the Scrutiny Committee to make recommendations to parliament for strengthening lobbying regulation and legislation.
As our recent poll showed, lobbying through party donors has been one factor in eroding confidence in our institutions. Regulations that make the lobbying system more transparent are one way to ensure all organisations and individuals behave in a way that has public trust at the centre. ERS Scotland are committed to working with others across the political spectrum to ensure that political decision making is transparent, and that citizens are as educated as possible on these matters.
Inaugural ERS Scotland Lecture
We are also looking forward to some new initiatives that will, we hope, become part of the political furniture in Scotland. One of these will be to launch our inaugural “State of Scottish Democracy” lecture later this year. This annual event will be addressed by academics, policymakers and experts to provide interesting and thoughtful analysis of the contemporary challenges facing Scottish democracy. We hope this will be a valuable contribution to Scottish public life and become recognised as an important event in the political calendar.
In short, there is much to do. Having a clear strategy about how we can best meet our objectives is, of course, vital. We hope this short blog will give you a flavour of our thinking, and our ambitions, for the remainder of 2022 and beyond.
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