Scotland politics

Electoral Reform Society calls for Scottish change

Alex Salmond
Image caption Alex Salmond's SNP was the first party to win an overall majority at Holyrood

Scotland's election system needs to be changed amid concern it is not meeting the aspirations of devolution, the Electoral Reform Society has said.

The body raised concern that power at Holyrood was now concentrated around two parties, the SNP, which won an election landslide in May, and Labour.

MSPs are elected through a mix of first-past-the-post and the list proportional representation system.

The society argued democracy worked better with more parties represented.

At 2011 Holyrood election, the SNP became the first party to win an overall majority of seats since devolution in 1999. Previously, the party served as a minority government and, before that, Scotland's devolved government was formed by a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition.

In a new report, the Electoral Reform Society argued that a change in the formula for allocating list seats from D'Hondt - which is said to favour larger parties - to the Sainte-Laguë method, would have produced a "more proportional" result, in which the SNP would not have won an overall majority of seats.

The report also urged a change in the current "closed" list system, where voters are asked to back a particular party, to an "open" one, where they could potentially have the chance to rank candidates in that party.

One of the authors of the report, Prof John Curtice of Strathclyde University, said: "The widespread expectation that the Scottish Parliament would be a multi-party parliament, in which no party would ever have an overall majority, has been dashed.

"In truth, although the electoral system bequeathed to the Scottish Parliament by Labour was far more proportional than first-past-the-post, it was never one that was best fitted to the realisation of that original expectation.

"It still favours larger parties over smaller ones, who, indeed, are actually being discouraged from standing in the constituency contests."

In the past, voters in Holyrood elections, which are currently run by the UK government, have elected a range of parties to serve, including representatives from the Scottish Socialists, as well as a number of independents.

Currently, aside from the four main parties, Holyrood has two Green MSPs and one independent.

Willie Sullivan, director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: "The concentration of power into two large parties in our parliament is of course better than power being concentrated in one."

But he added: "Concentrations of power are never good. We are convinced our democracy would work better with more parties in the system so that more voices are represented and heard and that power is shared, checked and balanced."

SNP business convener Derek MacKay MSP, said "The enthusiasm of voters to back the SNP's record, team and vision for Scotland was so strong it managed to deliver an SNP majority government against a system this report admits 'stacked the odds against' the SNP.

The report also raised concern that women's representation in Scottish politics was falling.

A spokesperson for Scottish Labour said: "We welcome the publication of the report and share some of the concerns expressed by Professor Curtice.

"As we've said before the result of the 2011 election raised issues about the structures at Holyrood and their ability to hold the government to account when they have a majority.

"There are actions the parliament could take to improve scrutiny of the government including strengthening the committee system."

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