CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
1.1 The Gould Report 1 made a number of recommendations to address problems with the 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local authorities. The Scottish Government considers that three of these recommendations are central to the proper organisation of future elections:
- -combining legislative and executive responsibility for Scottish Parliament and local government elections
- -decoupling local government and Scottish Parliament elections so they are held on different dates
- -the creation of the post of Chief Returning Officer for Scotland (CRO)
Decisions on these three recommendations will determine how and when the next elections are organised and must be acted upon quickly.
1.2 Decoupling and creation of a CRO post for local government are within competence of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. However, policy and legislation relating to the Scottish Parliamentary elections are reserved matters and so are the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament.
1.3 This response to the Gould report sets out the Scottish Government's approach to the main recommendations. It also outlines how the Scottish Government proposes to take forward those recommendations, recognising that progress is only possible or achievable in full consultation with key stakeholders - those who run elections in Scotland, those who stand for election and those who vote in them.
1.4 The Gould Report identifies serious underlying faults in the administrative and legal structures for elections in Scotland. These also highlight the considerable achievements of those working within that system in delivering the 2007 elections to produce a valid result, and the first local government elections under the Single Transferable Vote system. 2 However, these achievements were overshadowed by the level of rejected ballots for the Parliamentary elections and the structural problems now laid out in detail.
1.5 A number of stakeholders have published responses to Gould, setting out their views and proposals for action. On 29 November The Electoral Commission outlined a number of specific activities they plan to take forward, including a wide-ranging examination of electoral administration structures across the UK, focussing on the principles of electoral administration and reporting towards the middle of 2008. The Scottish Government is discussing with the Electoral Commission how to participate in this important piece of work. The Commission also intends to publish a plan for the development of a set of UK-wide standards on the accessibility, design and usability of ballot papers and associated stationary by 30 September 2008. The Scottish Government welcomes this as a helpful piece of research that will inform future decisions on design of local government ballot papers.
1.6 On 21 December 2007 the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), the Society of Local Authority Lawyers (SOLAR), and the Scotland and Northern Ireland Branch of the Association of Election Administrators (AEA) welcomed the report, while warning that Gould's recommendations potentially represent the largest ever overhaul of election administration and management ever seen.
1.7 On 13 December the Scotland Office issued a consultation paper accepting a number of Gould's recommendation and inviting comments on a number of others. 3 This paper is discussed further below.
1.8 On 10 January the Scottish Parliament debated the findings of the review and voted in favour of transferring jurisdiction for the Scottish Parliament elections to Scotland and for the decoupling of the local government elections from the Scottish Parliament elections. The Parliament agreed:
That the Parliament welcomes the Gould report, including the recommendation calling for the further devolution of executive and legislative powers to the Scottish Government and the Parliament for the administration of its own elections and the decoupling of future elections to this Parliament and Scotland's councils; calls on Her Majesty's Government and the Scottish Government to discuss, agree and publish a timetable for appropriate implementation of the report's recommendations having regard to the conclusions from both the Scottish Parliament's Local Government and Communities Committee and the House of Commons' Scottish Affairs Committee.
In addition the Local Government and Communities Committee has taken evidence from Mr Gould and the Electoral Commission on the findings of the Gould review.