Chapter 10 Government Business and Constitutional Relations
The Government Business and Constitutional Relations portfolio has a central role leading the Government's work as the UK exits the EU, and is responsible for constitutional policy and promoting democratic participation in Scotland. This includes responsibility for parliamentary and local elections (including the costs of the independent Local Boundary Commission for Scotland), sponsorship of the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland, and leadership of the Government's work on open government and freedom of information, as well as management of the Government's legislative programme and business in Parliament. In addition, the portfolio is responsible for the Office of the Chief Researcher, veterans and for Royal and Ceremonial functions within Scotland.
Key Inequalities of Outcome
The portfolio's 2020-21 programme continues our work to understand and remove barriers to participation in our democratic institutions and in government decision-making for those with protected characteristics, underpinned by improvements to equality data collection to inform and monitor progress on promoting diversity of elected representatives in Scotland.
For example, we know that only around a third of Scotland's elected representatives at the Scottish and UK Parliaments are women, and that less than a third of candidates for election to local government in 2017 were women. Only two of 129 MSPs are from ethnic minorities, and disabled people standing for election can face costs and challenges not experienced by non-disabled candidates.
People living in Scotland's more deprived areas are less likely to agree with the statement 'I can influence decisions affecting my local area' than those in less deprived areas. And those on lower incomes are less likely to say that the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities are good at listening to people's views before taking decisions than those on higher incomes.
Key Strategic Budget Priorities
A key priority for the portfolio in 2020-21 continues to be 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 sponsor the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland and the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland. We provide funding for, and work closely with, the Electoral Management Board, and will continue our work to modernise our approach to parliamentary and local elections in pursuit of our ambition for a society founded on fairness and equality.
Our work to ensure we are an open, transparent and connected government will continue through our delivery of our Open Government Action Plans, and we will seek to make a positive contribution to open government internationally through membership of the international Open Government Partnership. In addition, we will consider the results of our consultation on extending the scope of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) to private companies providing services on behalf of Scottish public authorities to inform next steps.
We will respond to the recommendations of the Scottish Veterans Commissioner's reports and progress the UK-wide 'Strategy for our Veterans', and we will maintain funding for the Veterans Commissioner and the Scottish Veterans Fund in 2020-21 as part of our commitment to the armed forces and veterans community.
Equality Implications of The Budget
We have published a report examining some of the social and equality impacts of the UK's exit from the EU. It identifies 20 equality groups that may be affected by Brexit, looking at three areas of potential impact through changes to: their legal rights; public services and funding; and their employment, housing and (consumer) spending prospects. This study will inform the government's approach to representing Scotland's interests in negotiations, as well as our planning for the impacts of Brexit.
Citizens' Assembly of Scotland
The Citizens' Assembly of Scotland is a group of over 100 people from across Scotland coming together to deliberate on key questions about the future of the country. The members of the Citizens' Assembly were selected to broadly reflect the adult population of Scotland, including by the equality characteristics of age, gender, ethnic group and disability, and by educational qualifications. The full participation of all members is promoted through the use of accessible venues, and providing appropriate measures to assist individual members, including assisting those with caring responsibilities. Most of the sessions of the Assembly, which are being livestreamed, are accompanied by a British Sign Language interpreter. Research is conducted with participants on their experiences at the assembly meetings to feed into the design and delivery of subsequent sessions to ensure that all participants feel equally able to participate.
Accessibility of Elections
The next Scottish Parliament election is scheduled for 2021 and the next local council elections for 2022. The Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill and Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill currently progressing through Parliament are intended to ensure equality of opportunity for all people in having their say in Scottish elections, and in standing for elected office.
The Scottish Government will continue to work with the Electoral Management Board, stakeholders and local communities to help remove barriers and improve accessibility of voting. Trials of digital innovations in this area will prioritise improving accessibility to voting for disabled people, in the first instance for those with sight loss.
Access to Elected Office
Just under a third of MPs elected to Scottish constituencies at last year's UK General Election were women, demonstrating again that more needs to be done to promote gender balance in political representation. We will continue to work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' (COSLA) cross-party Barriers to Elected Office Special Interest Group, and with the First Minister's National Advisory Council on Women and Girls. A scoping review of international practice in relation to candidate gender quotas will be published on the Scottish Government website and we will build on this in 2020-21 to inform our work to promote women's representation.
We will continue to support the Access to Elected Office Fund, delivered by Inclusion Scotland, for disabled candidates for the Scottish Parliament election in 2021, and for any by-elections for local council and Scottish Parliament seats. The fund provides financial support to pay for the additional impairment related costs that disabled people face when running for elected office.
We will continue our work to improve the equality data we have available to monitor progress on promoting the increased diversity of elected representatives in Scotland.
We are continuing to work with our partners from the civil society network, local government and equality groups on the commitments made in our Open Government action plans, which include a substantive focus on equality of access and equality of participation. This will include an international event focused on how our future action plans can best be used to promote gender equality within Scotland, as well as guiding our actions as we deliver our current plan. We will also develop a cross-government participation framework which will help reduce barriers and increase accessibility to participating in government work.
Freedom of Information
Our Freedom of Information legislation (FOISA) permits requests by voicemail or recorded message, which supports the needs of disabled people who may face barriers to sending written requests. Requesters can also express a preference as to how they would like to receive their response, to ensure they receive it in a format that meets their needs. As we consider extending FOISA further to cover private companies providing services on behalf of Scottish public authorities, we will assess the equality implications of any changes to the legislation.
We will maintain funding for the Veterans Commissioner and the Scottish Veterans Fund in 2020-21 as part of our commitment to the Armed Forces and veterans community. The Scottish Veterans Fund supports a range of projects each year, for example Scotland's Bravest Manufacturing Company (a division of Royal British Legion Industries), which works to support disabled veterans and other disabled people to regain their independence through personal development.
We will work, through the Strategy for our Veterans (jointly developed with the other governments of the UK), to address the needs of older veterans (as also committed to in Scotland's Older People Framework). We will undertake an evidence review to identify gaps in data on veterans in Scotland.
Fairer Scotland Implications of The Budget
We know that people living in Scotland's more deprived areas are less likely to agree with the statement 'I can influence decisions affecting my local area'. Through the commitments made in our Open Government Action Plan, we are working to improve the accountability landscape in Scotland, making it easier for the public to hold service providers to account. Additionally, the extension of FOISA to cover Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) is now in force and will provide better regulated access to information held by RSLs.
We will work to ensure veterans are not socio-economically disadvantaged, through our implementation of the Strategy for our Veterans, by supporting veterans to find appropriate employment and continue to enhance their careers throughout their working lives, and by ensuring veterans leave the Armed Forces with sufficient financial education, awareness and skills to be financially self-supporting and resilient.
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 2020-21 we are continuing 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, and to improve our ability to monitor our progress.
1. Scottish Household Survey, 2018 https://www.gov.scot/publications/scotlands-people-annual-report-results-2018-scottish-household-survey/pages/9/
2. Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 2017 https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-social-attitudes-attitudes-government-economy-public-services-2017/pages/3/