Chapter 17 Government Business and Constitutional Relations
The Government Business and Constitutional Relations portfolio supports a range of functions central to democratic participation in Scotland, including parliamentary and local elections (including the costs of the independent Local Boundary Commission for Scotland), open government and freedom of information, as well as management of the Government's legislative programme and business in Parliament.
The portfolio has the central role in seeking to ensure UK-EU negotiations and necessary preparations for the UK's exit from the EU, are undertaken in a way that protects Scotland's interests and maintains the closest possible links with the EU. The portfolio also handles relations with the other devolved administrations and for wider constitutional issues. In addition, the portfolio is responsible for the Office of the Chief Researcher, veterans and for Royal and Ceremonial functions within Scotland.
Key Equalities of Outcome
The portfolio's 2019-20 programme includes work to understand and remove barriers to participation in our democratic institutions and in government decision-making for those with protected characteristics, underpinned by planned improvements to equalities data collection to inform, in particular, our work to promote diversity of elected representatives in Scotland. For example, we know that only just over a third of MSPs elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 were women (45 women, 35 per cent), and that less than a third of candidates for election to local government in 2017 were women. We know that disabled people standing for election can face costs and challenges not experienced by non-disabled candidates, and seek to help level the playing field through funding the Access to Elected Office Fund.
Key Strategic Budget Priorities
A key priority for the portfolio in 2019-20 is seeking to protect and promote Scottish interests during UK-EU negotiations, and to develop opportunities for Scotland to continue to collaborate with EU partners.
We will also continue to pursue our ambition for a society founded on fairness and equality through our democratic frameworks, bringing forward legislation to modernise the approach to parliamentary and local elections.
The Scottish Government is committed to openness, and in 2019-20 we will work to deliver Scotland's second Open Government Action Plan, which we are currently developing with people across Scotland and the civil society network. The action plan focuses on improvements to accessing information and data, increasing openness, transparency and citizen participation to support the values of openness at the heart of the National Performance Framework.
We also remain committed to supporting members of the Armed Forces and veterans community in Scotland, maintaining funding for the Scottish Veterans' Commissioner and other measures to support veterans, primarily through the Scottish Veterans' Fund.
Equality Implications of the Scottish Budget 2019-20
Improving the Accessibility of Elections for People with Disabilities
The next Scottish Parliament election is scheduled for 2021 and local Government elections in 2022. A feasibility study is underway to explore options for improving the accessibility of elections for people with disabilities. The study will produce recommendations for pilots or trials and is due for completion in 2019. This work will directly contribute to the public sector equality duty by taking forward actions that improve access to elections for those with disabilities.
Access to Elected Office
We will keep in place the Access to Elected Office Fund for disabled candidates for the Scottish Parliament election in 2021. The fund offers support to disabled people seeking election. It was successful in supporting candidates to get elected in the Local Government elections 2017 and continues to operate for by-elections.
We are also initiating analysis to improve the equalities data we have available to monitor progress on promoting the increased diversity of elected representatives in Scotland.
Open Government and Freedom of Information
The second Open Government Action Plan includes an ambitious commitment to make systematic change across the Scottish Government, improving the way people are listened to, involved and able to participate in decisions that shape the world around them. This commitment includes a substantive focus on equality of access and equality of participation - and changes in practice will involve working with a range of equalities groups and interests.
Our Freedom of Information legislation facilitates requests by voicemail or recorded message, which supports the needs of people with disabilities who may face barriers to sending written requests. Requesters can also express a preference as to how they would like to receive their response, so that they receive it in a format that meets their needs. Our ongoing work to improve the way we respond to Freedom of Information requests includes a review of international practice, which may identify further areas where we can incorporate equalities considerations into our practice.
The Government Business and Constitutional Relations portfolio is focused on protecting and promoting Scotland's interests during UK-EU negotiations and as the UK exits from the EU, as well as continuously improving our democratic frameworks and promoting openness and participation.
During 2019-20, we are taking forward a number of programmes of work that seek to improve opportunities and remove barriers to participation in our democratic institutions and in government decision-making for all citizens, and to improve our ability to monitor our progress.
Email: Liz Hawkins