A voting box bearing a religious symbol

We urge local councils to scrap church voting rights

May 11, 2022

Following the local council elections last week we have written to all of Scotland’s local councils urging them to end voting rights for non-elected church representatives sitting on local education committees. This change is especially important in areas that have a close balance between opposition parties. In these councils church votes could become tiebreakers for closely contested issues.

In 2019 Blaringone Primary School in Perth and Kinross was closed despite the fact that elected councillors had voted to keep it open. However the deciding votes of unelected church representatives overturned this vote in what one community leader described as having ‘a devastating effect on the community’.  At the time one local councillor described it as ‘a democratic outrage’ while another said ‘I haven’t spoken to a single person who hasn’t been appalled’.

While the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires councils to appoint religious representatives to committees considering education matters, after the Blaringone case the Scottish Government made clear each local authority could decide whether religious representatives got to vote or not.

Leading the call to remove undemocratic votes for churches, Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland, said:

Given Scotland’s proportional voting system for councils, new and returning councillors in many local areas will know that every decision made will involve negotiations and close votes. What they won’t be considering is that any decisions they may take on education can be overturned on the say-so of unelected representatives from Scotland’s churches and religious institutions.

Councillors need to take action now so that only those voted in democratically will have a say on local schooling. We urge all councils that still allow votes for church representative to bring forward a motion or new rules of engagement for non-elected church representatives, removing their voting rights. Religious groups should not be given a privileged say over how schools are run, especially when this might run against the wishes of the local electorate.

Fraser Sutherland, Humanist Society Scotland

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