Scottish friends; send John Finnie MSP your views on his bill to abolish Church appointees on Council education Committees
This is the first stage of the consultation process. Here’s my input. You can find the outline of the bill, and associated questions, here. All you need do is copy the questions, give your own answers (mine below might help, but please don’t cut and paste; it spoils the whole effect), get organisations you’re involved in to consider doing likewise, and pass the word on.
Response to your proposal to remove Church representatives from education committees.
I am Paul Braterman, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, 48 Nith Street, Glasgow G 33 2AF, responding as an individual.
Q1: Do you agree that the obligation on local authorities to appoint three church representatives to Education Committees (set out in section 124 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973) should be removed?
Yes, most strongly. It is an affront to democracy, completely anachronistic and in no way representative of the current Scottish population.
At least two of the church representatives owe their positions to their nominating churches, to which they are in the first instance answerable, rather than to the electorate. This is intolerable. In addition, members of the represented churches have dual access to the council, through their elected representatives and through the church representatives. This is inequitable. Finally, churches do have their own institutional interests. This is corrupting.
I note also that some church representatives represent strange views, which should certainly not have a privileged position within the educational system. For example, Dr Nagy Iskander (South Lanarkshire) is a six-day creationist, while the Rev David Fraser (Clackmannanshire) represents a church that believes in the special creation of Adam and Eve as characters in history, and a literal historical Fall that left their descendants “corrupted in every aspect of their being”, and has told its members that Noah’s Ark had been found on Mount Ararat.
Q2: Do you agree that at least two-thirds of the members of all local authority committees should be elected councillors?
Yes. That would allow even a very small committee (4 members) to co-opt 2 if it wished.
Q3: Do you agree that any unelected members of committees should no longer have a right to vote?
Yes. It is an affront to democracy that unelected members could ever sway an issue by voting.
Q4. Do you agree that all votes taken by councils and committees of councils should be recorded in a manner which would allow constituents to identify whether their elected member(s) had been present and able to take part in the vote?
Yes. Representative democracy depends on this sort of thing.
Q5: Do you agree with the following proposed categorisations of votes and no-votes? If not, what categories would best achieve the aim of greater accountability?
Names of all members present for that vote
Names of those voting yes
Names of those voting no
Names of those abstaining
Names of those ineligible to vote and the reason (e.g. because of a conflict of interest).
Names of those present and eligible but who did not vote
Q6: Beyond meetings of the whole council and its committees, are there any other meetings which should be covered by such a provision? How should such meetings be defined so as to apply clearly to every local authority and allow for variations in structure?
I do not know what kind of meeting could be referred to, but if it is any meeting at which individuals are eligible to vote by virtue of being councillors, or by virtue of some other position that they hold because they are councillors, they should be covered.
Q7: Do you agree that councillors should be obliged to record, in the same way as set out at question 5, any votes taken regarding local authorities’ statutory functions that take place in organisations and bodies out-with the local authority?
See my answer to Q6.
Q8: Do you agree that local authorities should be obliged to webcast all meetings to which the public are currently permitted?
Q9: Should the scope of this measure go beyond meetings of the full council and its committees and sub-committees? If so, what other meetings should local authorities be required to webcast?
Q10: Do you agree that, in addition to live webcasting, local authorities should be required to make archived recordings available for a period following the meeting? What would an appropriate period be?
I do not know enough about webcasting to have strong opinions on this. I do, however, feel that in all these cases, the minutes of meetings should be posted on the website, and archived indefinitely; and that if any materials are webcast, the archived recordings should remain available for a period including the next two council elections.
Q11: What is your assessment of the likely financial implications of the proposed Bill?
I do not know enough about webcasting to speak to its financial implications. The other proposed changes would probably result in a small financial saving.
Q12: Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications for equality? If it is likely to have a substantial negative implication, how might this be minimised or avoided?
The proposed bill would enhance equality, by removing the privileges associated with religious organisations to which most Scots no longer belong (the combined membership of the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland was less than 50% at the last census).
Q13: Do you have any other comments or suggestions relevant to the final proposal?
Merely that, like most Scots, I was unaware of the existence of these reserved seats until very recently, and now that I am so aware, I am amazed that they were not abolished generations ago. Church spokesmen defend their existence, on the grounds that they have valuable experience. So have many others, such as parents, teachers, policemen, social workers, and medical personnel, and councils can co-opt such people, or take testimony from them, when they feel the need to do so. The claim that Church spokesmen are of such high virtue that they should be on council committees whether anyone wants them there or not, is breathtaking in its arrogance.