Local government boundary changes will take ‘local ties’ into consideration

Written by Kate Shannon on 13 April 2015 in Feature

Chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland Ronnie Hinds speaks to Holyrood

The Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland has begun its consultation with councils on proposed wards for each local authority area, as part of the fifth review of electoral arrangements.

Its proposals contain recommendations for councillor numbers in each of Scotland’s 32 council areas, as well as the number and boundaries of wards for the election of those councillors.

A two month consultation period with each council began last month and will be followed by a 12-week public consultation.

This is one of the foundations of democracy

The commission expects to make its recommendations to Scottish ministers by May 2016, and that the resulting wards will be available for the Scottish local government elections in May 2017.

Ronnie Hinds, chairman of the commission, told Holyrood: “We recognise the limitations of what we can do. With five people on the commission and our support staff, we are tasked with drawing hundreds of boundaries all over Scotland. We’re not going to get it right first time so we need local people to say ‘do you realise if you draw the line here, the following will happen’. We’re trying to make it easier to do that.

“If you take the USA, you can see why this process is so important just by looking at what they do and how wrong they sometimes get it. The equivalent exercise in the USA is done, by and large, by politicians and not by an independent commission.

“You get ward designs which don’t make sense in any respect, they aren’t coherent in terms of local communities but worse than that, in many ways they don’t respect the key requirement here, which is parity.

“What I mean by that is when you cast your vote, the ideal scenario is that your vote counts just as much as the next person’s. One of the ways that might not happen is, for example, in your ward your councillors represent 3,000 electors but in the ward next door the councillors represents only 2,000 electors.

“It’s never as bad as that here but it can be in America. It has been 20 years in this country since we carried out a thorough review like we’re doing right now. In that time there has been many changes, the population has grown by just over five per cent in that time and within that, some areas’ population have grown by 20 per cent while some are down by 10 per cent.

“You can imagine the disparities this produces and there are cases where there is a noticeable difference in the weight your vote carries when you go to the polling station.”

In 2014, the commission consulted councils and the public on councillor numbers which for the first time were determined using a methodology which took account of levels of deprivation as well as population and its distribution. 

Population size remains the biggest determinant of councillor numbers and the design of wards.

When reviewing electoral arrangements the Commission is required to take account of the following factors:

  • the interests of effective and convenient local government
  • within each council, each councillor should represent the same number of electors as nearly as may be (known as “parity”)
  • local ties which would be broken by making a particular boundary
  • the desirability of fixing boundaries that are easily identifiable
  • special geographical considerations

Hinds added: “In Scotland as a whole our proposals reduce the number of councillors in Scotland from 1,223 to 1,217.  The public will benefit from electoral representation that more accurately reflects the distribution of voters within council areas.

“This is one of the foundations of democracy so it is right to review it from time to time, and it is ready for review after 20 years.”

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