Chapter Four: Accessibility of Voting and Elected Office
1. Increasing the Representation of Under-Represented Groups and Making Voting More Accessible
We know that, at both local and national levels, the diversity of Scotland's population is not properly reflected in structures of governance. For example:
- there are one million disabled people in Scotland (19% of the population) but this proportion is often not represented, particularly at local government level, in elected representation; and
- in spite of ethnic minorities making up 4% of Scotland's total population, minority ethnic communities have proportionately lower levels of representation throughout Scotland's political, governance and decision- making structures. In 2012, only 0.8% of local councillors came from a visible ethnic minority population.
The Scottish Government believes that fair, proportionate representation at both local and national levels is essential to achieving equality. It is important that those individuals and communities who are at greatest risk of lower representation are enabled to contribute to decision-making, in order to reach relevant solutions and build capacity and wellbeing.
In order to remove barriers to elected office, the Scottish Government has taken a number of actions. Our Access to Elected Office Fund was introduced in February 2016 and provides grant funding to disabled people who are standing for selection and election in Scottish Parliament and local government elections. The funding is intended to help cover additional costs, for example for accessible transport or communications support.
The legislation for the Scottish Parliament and local government elections was also updated to ensure that any funding received from the Fund would not count towards the maximum amount a candidate can claim as part of their spending limits. We will carry out an evaluation of the Fund and make any necessary improvements. In looking ahead to the next Scottish Parliament elections, our aim is to ensure that the Fund continues to work for disabled people who wish to participate in the governance of the nation.
There are also specific actions within the Scottish Government's British Sign Language ( BSL) National Plan, 2017-2023. The National Plan sets out the Scottish Government's long-term goals for BSL in ten key areas including Democracy. It describes actions to help make progress towards these goals over the next six years.
In our Race Equality Framework, published in March 2016, the Scottish Government set a key goal of increasing participation and representation of minority ethnic individuals in governance and influence in decision-making at local and national level. It included an aim of working with stakeholders and communities to put together a plan of action to increase diversity in elected office.
The Scottish Government has published a Race Equality Action Plan, which can be found at http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00528746.pdf, outlining the actions we will take over the lifetime of this Parliament to realise the ambitions set out in the Race Equality Framework for Scotland.
Question 23: What other action could the Scottish Government take to widen access to and remove barriers to voting and elected office?
On polling day, not everyone is able to attend their polling station to cast their vote. Proxy and postal voting help ensure that those who are entitled to vote are able to do so.
In addition, setting up a polling station in a way that manages the flow of voters well and helps make the voting process accessible to all is key to ensuring a positive voter experience. When setting up polling stations, electoral administrators are fully aware of the importance of having appropriate signage, parking provision and low-level polling booths and ballot boxes.
It is a legal requirement to provide a tactile voting device at every polling station. The tactile template is a device that allows someone who is blind or partially sighted to mark the ballot paper themselves once the details on the ballot paper have been read out, either by their companion or by the Presiding Officer.
Providing a good service to voters is a very important part of the job of the polling station staff and staff are on hand to offer any assistance required.
Question 24: As well as the above arrangements, is there anything else that could be done to increase the accessibility of elections?
2. Improving Gender Balance in Elected Office
Many campaigns have taken place to highlight the need for more women to take up elected office. Women make up 51% of Scotland's population, yet fewer than 35% of MSPs are women.
As things stand, it is of course the role of each of the political parties in Scotland to select the people they want to stand for election for their party. Each party will have its preferred selection process and it is up to it what methods it uses to select the candidates it wishes to support. Although neither political parties nor candidates are subject in themselves to the Equality Act 2010, they are encouraged to play a voluntary role in promoting equality.
In the Scottish Parliament election in May 2016, 45 women MSPs (34.9%) were elected, the exact same proportion as in 2011. Therefore, despite optimistic predictions of improvement, the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections remain the high point of women's representation in Scotland at all political levels (at 39.5%).
Meanwhile, some progress has been made at local government level. At the elections held in May 2017, the proportion of female candidates increased to 30.5% from 22.8% in 2012 and 29% of councillors elected were women, compared to 24% in 2012. However, no council in Scotland achieved equal representation overall and 103 of the council wards across Scotland (29% of all council wards) returned no women councillors at all.
Some political parties have used gender quotas with the use of All Women Shortlists ( AWS) in certain constituency areas (where an existing member was retiring, for example). This led to an increase in female candidates standing for election in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election. If all political parties were to take up this approach significant change would be achieved.
50/50 by 2020
The Partnership for Change 50/50 by 2020 campaign was launched by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in June 2015. The aim of the campaign is to encourage public, private and voluntary sector organisations to sign up to a voluntary commitment to work towards 50/50 gender balance on their boards by 2020.
The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill, which was recently introduced to Parliament, sets an objective for listed public authorities that their boards should have 50% of non-executive members who are women. The bill covers certain public bodies, colleges and higher education institutions. The Women 50/50 campaign advocated for at least 50% representation of women in Parliament, councils and on public boards and is supported by the First Minister and other party leaders, as well as other political figures.
Question 25: How can the Scottish Government best support gender balance in those elected as MSPs or local councillors?