Did you know that across Scotland, decisions relating to how schools are run are significantly influenced by religious groups with no accountability?

In Scotland, the law requires each council to have three reserved seats for church representatives – unelected and unaccountable to the public. In many areas, these religious representatives have the right to vote on major decisions such as school closures, teacher numbers and education policy.

Humanist Society Scotland believes this is wrong. We think that all decisions relating to the running of schools should be democratic. Local voters should have the final say on who they want to run the education system through the ballot box. Do you agree?

Fair School Votes

I believe that decisions on local education matters should be democratic and accountable.

Local Authorities across Scotland should remove voting rights for unelected religious representatives to ensure that all matters relating to schools are decided by people who are elected by the local population.

By signing the petition you agree to us updating you on the progress of the campaign.

Campaign News

May 2019: Edinburgh Council debates church votes on schools

Edinburgh City Council have become the second council to formally debate the issue of allowing church representatives special rights on how schools are run following pressure from Humanist Society Scotland’s #FairSchoolVotes campaign.

A motion supported by the Green Party and Liberal Democrats in the city council called for young people and parents give more say in how schools are run and to remove the archaic system of allowing churches the same voting power as elected councillors.

One councillor who proposed the change said moving to an updated system was overdue:

It’s 2019. It’s no longer appropriate for religious representatives to have special status on education committee, although they will still be able to take part in debate, just as parents can currently do.

Cllr Mary Campbell

The decision, however, has been delayed by councillors for six months after Cllr Ian Perry said there should be a delay until a ‘legal appeal’ in Perth and Kinross on a similar change had been considered. However, Humanist Society Scotland can reveal that no ‘legal appeal’ has been lodged at Perth and Kinross Council. A council spokesperson confirmed this saying:

A motion was put to the Perth & Kinross Council meeting on April 24 by Councillor Xander McDade and Councillor Michael Barnacle. We are not aware of any current or pending legal action in relation to this matter.

Perth and Kinross Council Spokesperson

In a letter to councillors a representative of a local church criticised the proposal for only democratically elected representatives to have votes on how schools are run saying it was a:

deeply disappointing and a very sad development. It endangers the very harmonious and positive relationship which has existed for many years between the council and the church.

Right Reverend Monsignor Anthony Duffy

April 2019: Renfrewshire Council split on church votes on schools

A split has emerged on Renfrewshire Council on the future of votes for unelected church members on issues relating to schools. After Humanist Society Scotland contacted the council leader asking for voting rights to be based on democracy the local Gazette newspaper revealed a split opinion amongst councillors on the future.

“I have always had concerns that the education board allowed non-councillors to have a vote and that these additional places were reserved solely for people representing religious organisations.

“When more and more people are not religious it didn’t sit right with me that organisations which held that viewpoint were not allowed the same rights as religious groups.”

Cllr Will Mylet

“While the majority of the population might be post Christian, a lot of our values are historically Christian such as social justice, the importance of education and the idea of the common good that people in power have responsibility to look after others.”

Cllr Andy Doig

Read more…

March 2019: School closed on the say-so of church reps

Picture of Blairingone Primary School
Blairingone Primary

The small Kinross-shire community of Blairingone became a flash point for the Fair School Votes campaign after the local school was closed on the say so of church representatives.

Local – democratically elected – councillors voted to keep the school open, after a debate, by 7 votes to 6. However, the two religious representatives present voted to condemn the school to closure swinging the outcome of the vote.

Members of the local community were unsurprisingly dismayed by this unaccountable decision:

“But then those hopes came crashing down when two non-elected members of the committee – two men who were there to represent religious interests – voted for closure.

“The pair didn’t take part in the debate, but under the rules they are allowed to vote.

“The parent council, which battled so hard, is understandably furious. These families have been let down by a deeply flawed and archaic system. “

The Courier Newspaper

“We are appalled by the fact that the casting vote was made by two unelected, co-opted members of the Lifelong Learning Committee.

“Losing the school in Blairingone will have a devastating effect on the community. For church representatives to make such a decision, which has nothing to do with faith, is incomprehensible to us.”

Trudy Duffy-Wigman,
Fossoway and District Community Council

“What happened at the lifelong learning committee was a democratic outrage.

“The will of the democratically elected representatives to keep Blairingone Primary School open was overturned by the votes of religious representatives who are accountable to no one.”

Cllr Callum Purves, Former vice-convener of the lifelong learning committee

“I haven’t spoken to a single person who hasn’t been appalled by the fact that the decision to close this small rural school was swung by the votes of unelected religious representatives. The majority of democratically elected members voted to keep it open.”

Cllr Xander McDade

Following the decision, criticism by Humanist Society Scotland and local campaigning by parents and community representatives, Perth and Kinross Council took the decision to remove votes from the church representatives in the future. However, the future of the school in Blairingone is still unknown.

Humanist Society Scotland officially launched the Fair School Votes campaign by writing to all local authorities in Scotland to ask them to follow Perth and Kinross council by removing voting rights for unelected church members.

2018: Leading creationist to vote on schools in South Lanarkshire

A medical doctor described as one of Europe’s most active creationists has been reappointed to sit on the education committee of South Lanarkshire council.

Dr Nagy Iskander, who has claimed that a key tenet of evolution is “really illogical”, will be allowed to vote at meetings even though he is unelected.

Read more…

2017: Unelected Highland ‘religious representative’ condemned for anti-LGBTI comments

Alexander MacLean, a member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

An unelected ‘religious representative’ has used his position on a Highland Council education committee to criticise the alleged ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools.

Alexander MacLean, a member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, also suggested that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people are bullied because they are “overt” and attract attention.

Read more…