January 13, 2004
Labour MPs in talks on Holyrood poll
By Michael Settle
January 13, 2004
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
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
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.