Labour MSPs battle change in vote system

Published March 11th 2005 in

LABOUR MSPs have come out strongly against any change in the voting system for the Scottish Parliament.

In a surprise move, they have officially thrown their weight behind retaining the current system of constituency and list MSPs despite previous gripes.

And they have set their face against a move to the single transferable vote (STV), the system most likely to be recommended by an independent commission due to report by the end of the year.

The Labour group at the parliament has drawn up a formal submission arguing it is too soon to start making changes after just six years of devolution.

And although there was no vote on the issue, one senior backbencher said: "I’m not aware of anyone in the group who thinks differently. We may not like the list system, but STV would be even worse for us."

Scottish Secretary Alistair Darling set up the Arbuthnott commission last year to look into the possible confusion caused by having different boundaries and voting systems in Scotland for each level of government - Westminster, Holyrood, the European Parliament and local councils.

The move was prompted by the redrawing of Scotland’s boundaries for Westminster seats because of the reduction of Scottish MPs from 72 to 59 in the wake of devolution.

Sir John Arbuthnott and his colleagues are now receiving submissions on possible changes for Holyrood elections.

And they are widely expected to back some form of STV, which would mean scrapping list MSPs and creating larger constituencies, each electing several members.

The Liberal Democrats and the SNP both favour STV. The Tories oppose all proportional representation, but prefer the present system to STV. And the Greens and the Scottish Socialists fear STV could make it more difficult for them to get elected.

The final decision on the voting system for Holyrood is the responsibility of the Westminster parliament. And the stance taken by the Labour group of MSPs could put them at loggerheads with the UK Labour government if it decides to accept the Arbuthnott recommendations.

Dunfermline West MSP Scott Barrie, former vice-convener of the Labour group, confirmed a formal statement from the group had been sent to the Scottish Labour Party.

He said: "People felt we have only had two elections under the current system and it should be allowed to bed down. Just because there are changes in Westminster boundaries should not mean we have to have a wholesale change to our electoral system.

"Most people, if you stopped them in the street and asked which constituency they were in, would look at you blankly."

However, the Labour MSPs face opposition to their stance from some councillors who fought unsuccessfully against STV for local government elections. The councillors argue if it is good enough for them, it should be good enough for the parliamentarians.

What's in the poll positions?

Current system: 73 MSPs are elected in individual constituencies and 56 are elected from regional "top-up" lists - with these list seats allocated so each party’s total number of MSPs reflects its share of the vote.

Single transferable vote: New, larger constituencies would be created - possibly based on two or three Westminster seats - and each of these would elect four or five MSPs, with voters stating candidates in order of preference.