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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 16:24 GMT
Ministers unveil voting reform
Ballot box
Voting reform was part of the partnership agreement
Legislation which would change the way councillors are elected in Scotland has been published.

The Local Governance Bill will introduce proportional representation (PR) for local authority elections.

Voting reform was a key part of the partnership agreement struck between Labour and the Liberal Democrats after the May election.

However, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) and some Labour backbenchers have warned that they remain opposed to the move.

Cosla president Pat Watters said the Scottish Executive had failed to listen to the results of its own consultation on the plan.

He said: "Once again we are seeing the executive dismissing the results of their own consultation when it does not come up with the answer they want.

"Out of 172 respondents to the consultation on the draft bill, 81 opposed STV whilst only 65 supported STV.

"Cosla has consistently made the case that the debate on the electoral system for local government is a diversion from action on the key issues facing Scottish local authorities; including local government's role, status and credibility; its resourcing and constitutional issues impacting on its relationship with the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament."

Glasgow Springburn MSP Paul Martin argued that the introduction of a single transferable vote (STV) system would "obliterate" the link between councillors and the people they represent.

We expect the agreement on STV to go through and if it doesn't I don't think the coalition could survive
Donald Gorrie
Lib Dem backbencher

He said: "I don't see any evidence whatsoever that STV in local government will improve local government.

"At the moment I don't see any way possible way that I could vote in favour of that proposal."

Opponents also include Dunfermline East MSP Helen Eadie, who told BBC Scotland that the legislation was an example of "the tail wagging the dog".

"It's about one of the smallest parties in the parliament wanting to use the power that they have to try to force through issues that they want to see steamrollered through," she said.

"That isn't democratic and aren't the principles on which this parliament was founded."

However, the Liberal Democrats have warned that the coalition could collapse if the bill does not become law.

Ballot paper
The single transferable vote system is proposed

Backbencher Donald Gorrie said: "It is an essential part of the coalition with the Labour Party, which signed up to this agreement and should see it through.

"We expect the agreement on STV to go through and if it doesn't I don't think the coalition could survive."

The STV system would see the introduction of larger, multi-member wards.

Voters would be asked to rank candidates in order of preference.

The legislation, which was published on Monday, will also change the rules to allow 18-year-olds and council employees to stand for election.

It will also give councillors salaries and pension rights.


WATCH AND LISTEN
John Knox reports
"The executive is determined to press ahead with electoral reform"



SEE ALSO:
Action needed on voter turnout
19 Nov 03  |  Scotland
Voting system change mooted
27 Aug 03  |  Scotland
PR pay-out plan for councillors
22 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Voting deal angers council body
15 May 03  |  Scotland


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