A view of Edinburgh City Chambers, a set of neoclassical stone buildings forming a courtyard with archways in front.

Edinburgh Council removes voting rights from religious reps on education committee

August 31, 2023

Humanist Society Scotland is delighted that Edinburgh Council has voted to remove voting rights from unelected religious representatives on its education committee. Since the start of May, five councils (Edinburgh, Stirling,* Fife, Highlands, and Orkney) have voted to remove these undemocratic pieces of religious privilege from their statute books. With Scotland’s second largest council by population size making a clear commitment to change, we believe we are starting to reach a point of critical mass, with many other councils likely to follow suit.

The need for change on religious voting rights

At present, Scottish law requires local councils to appoint three religious representatives to their education committees. Normally, these consist of representatives of the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, and a third body or group. This is a throwback to Scotland’s religious past. It gives church ministers more say in determining local education policy than teachers or parents.

In 2019 the Scottish Government clarified that there was no legal need for these faith advocates to have voting rights. This decision was made after the votes of unelected religious representatives resulted in the closure of Blaringone Primary School in Perth and Kinross. So far, eight out of 32 Scottish councils, including Edinburgh, have opted to remove voting rights from religious representatives. Five of these councils have made the decision over the last four months. We believe today’s vote will add to the growing momentum for change.

Humanist Society Scotland CEO Fraser Sutherland says: “We are reaching a point of no return. More and more councils across Scotland are waking up to the fact that offering voting rights on matters of local education to unelected faith representatives is unfair. It’s not a matter of being anti-religious, it’s simply a matter of democracy. We hope that over the coming years we will see many more councils follow the positive examples set in Edinburgh, Stirling, Fife, Highlands, and Orkney.”

Image C. Ronnie Leask/Creative Commons

*Stirling will remove voting rights after the next local council elections in 2027.

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