Boundary changes

By Jason Beattie and Andrew Denholm
Published February 4th 2004 in The Scotsman
LABOUR and the Tories were yesterday accused of trying to stifle the smaller parties in the Scottish Parliament after backing proposals to cut the number of MSPs elected by the list system.

In a report yesterday, the Labour-dominated Commons Scottish affairs committee came out in favour of keeping the size of the parliament at 129, but also called for the retention of so-called co- terminus boundaries, where MPs and MSPs share the same constituency.

If the recommendations are accepted, it would mean two MSPs for each of the 59 Westminster constituencies, with the remaining 11 being elected from the list. The proposals, backed by Labour and Conservative MPs on the committee, provoked a furious reaction from smaller parties in Scotland, who said any reduction in the 56 list MPs would undermine the parliament’s democratic mandate.

In a further snub to the Holyrood institution, the MPs recommended that the final decision on all such constitutional issues should be made in Westminster by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and not in Edinburgh.

The Green Party claimed the report showed the old-style parties were panicking in the face of democracy breaking out in Scotland.

Mark Ballard MSP, the Green spokesman on parliamentary business, said the Scottish people would see through this attempt at undermining democracy.

Bruce Crawford, an SNP MSP, said the proposals flew in the face of all democratic principles. "The only body with the democratic legitimacy to decide on reform is the Scottish Parliament itself," he said.

Meanwhile, in the Scottish Parliament, Andy Kerr, the finance minister, denied plans to change the voting system for local councils in Scotland was a political fix cooked up by Labour and the Liberal Democrats after the last election.

Mr Kerr, a Labour MSP, and his deputy, Tavish Scott, a Liberal Democrat, were questioned by Holyrood’s local government committee.

The committee is scrutinising the Scottish Executive’s Local Governance Bill, which seeks to introduce the single transferable vote method of proportional representation for council elections.

Labour back-benchers and councillors have voiced opposition to the plans.