The report follows the Committee’s consideration of the Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill which proposes a number of changes to electoral practice and administration in Scotland.
These include extending the time between elections to the Scottish Parliament and local government, meaning these would routinely take place every five years, instead of four. The Bill also introduces flexibility on the size of council wards to include two and five member wards.
However, in welcoming these changes, the Committee has called for caution about how this flexibility is used due to concerns over the representation and proportionality of votes cast.
Speaking as the report was published, Committee Convener Bill Kidd MSP said:
“How our elections are run in Scotland has a direct impact on the engagement and participation. Everybody should feel that they are represented and can have a say in how local and national policies are running.
“The changes in this Bill are clearly to be welcomed to make sure that this happens across Scotland. However, the Scottish Government must make sure that where there is flexibility on issues such as the size of council wards, the impact on representation is considered.”
The Bill also introduces measures to allow 14 year olds to be added to the electoral register ahead of attaining the right to vote at 16. In supporting these measures, the Committee has called on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that young people have the opportunity to be informed about the electoral process.
Deputy Convener, Mark Ruskell MSP said:
“Young people have to be at the heart of our democracy. These changes send a clear signal that we want the voices of young people across Scotland to be heard and for them to play their part in Scottish democratic life.
“But it is crucial that everybody is informed how the electoral process works and what this means for them. We would urge the Scottish Government to make sure this type of information is made available to young people.”
The Bill also contains measures to facilitate electronic voting. In welcoming these measures and the increased accessibility this could lead to, the Committee called on the Government to ensure it hears the views of groups representing disabled people on how these changes could be best achieved.
The Committee has also called on the Government to undertake more work into the so called ‘list order effect,’ which is the suggestion that the candidates nearer the top of the ballot paper are more likely to be selected.
Whilst not included in the Bill, the Committee has called for more research to be undertaken into the alternatives to alphabetical ordering on the ballot paper.
The Scotland Act 2016 amended the Scotland Act 1998 to devolve further electoral powers to the Scottish Parliament.
The changes were based on recommendations made in the Report of the Smith Commission and gave additional powers in relation to the operation of Scottish Parliament and local government elections in Scotland.
The Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill was introduced by the Scottish Government on 2 September 2019. More information about the Bill can be found here:
More information about the Committee’s consideration can be found here.