Labour MPs in talks on Holyrood poll plans

By Michael Settle
Published January 13th 2004 in The Herald

SCOTTISH Labour MPs are to hold a special group meeting at Westminster tonight to debate how MSPs should be elected to Holyrood.

The talks in the House of Commons will focus on the government's Scottish Parliament Constituencies Bill, which seeks to maintain 129 parliamentarians in Edinburgh. The first full Commons debate on it is expected next month.

While Alistair Darling, the Scottish secretary, has insisted the bill has been tightly drawn to ensure that the whole devolution issue is not reopened, back benchers are confident amendments about Holyrood's voting system will be allowed and have already begun proposing them.
Last night, one MP said the proposal from George Foulkes, the former Scotland Office minister, "had a majority" within the Scottish group.

Mr. Foulkes has suggested Holyrood should adopt the new constituencies planned for Westminster, which are due to number 59 at the next general election. His plan involves having two MSPs per constituency, with 11 others elected for the whole of Scotland.

This will keep the 129 complement, but reduce confusion for voters by establishing the same constituencies for Holyrood and Westminster.
However, a radical aspect to Mr Foulkes's proposal is that the two MSPs per constituency should be elected by proportional representation.

Colleagues suspect he is being used as an "outrider" for the government and, in particular, Jack McConnell, who, it is claimed, would like a full PR system for Holyrood.

Last night, the "outrider" claim was put to Mr Foulkes, who replied: "I would not use that phrase. I would say I'm in close touch with the government."

Intriguingly, the back bencher made clear he still was a supporter of the traditional first-past-the-post system, but he recognised to have four different systems in Scotland was untenable.

Furthermore, he accepted that the PR blueprint he was proposing was not a truly proportional system but insisted it would be better than the current hybrid one where 73 MSPs are chosen by first-past-the post and the remaining 56 by a PR top-up list.