The number of councillors in Scotland is being reviewed by the Local Government Boundary Commission. Changes need to be in place for the 2017 local elections.
Many of us are still adapting to wholesale changes which took place in 2007 and, with three other tiers of democracy and the electoral boundary mosaic which goes with them, we can be forgiven for an element of confusion about both the boundaries and responsibilities of councillors, MSPs MPs and MEPs.
Certainly there needs to be recognition of the changing population in differing areas. Edinburgh has grown since the last ward boundary changes. It is extraordinary that the commission points out that Edinburgh would have 94 councillors instead of the current 58 if there were to be reasonable parity with other councils.
Having come to that conclusion it notes that it is bound by parameters that the numbers should not change in this review by more than ten per cent – hence the proposal to increase the number of Edinburgh councillors by six.
There are two problems. First, democracy in Scotland clearly doesn’t mean each person’s vote is of equal value. A councillor in Edinburgh currently represents 6184 electors. A councillor in Stirling represents 2953 and a Shetland councillor represents only 830. Put another way, your vote in Edinburgh is worth less than half as much as a vote in, say, Stirling and less than a seventh of a vote in Shetland. So much for the principle of democracy being fair.
Actually I agree that there should be some allowance in councillor numbers for the extra distances involved in rural and remote areas – though the current allowance is absurd.
But there is another source of imbalance and unfairness. The amount of democracy you get is influenced by whether your local authority is termed a (quaintly named) deprived area. The ratio of councillors to electors is deliberately designed to be smaller for such areas. That is anti-democratic, discriminatory and wrong. In any case it is a self-deluding conceit to believe that more councillors can solve deprivation. What we need are better councillors where their responsibility is clear cut and focused.
To be fair to the Boundary Commission they did not make these rules. That dubious responsibility goes to the Scottish Parliament.
Which brings me to a more significant point. Do we really need all these representatives at all these levels? More elected representatives do not mean better government services or better democracy or even higher turnout at elections. That is why I have suggested that the public would be better served by fewer representatives. It is not simply that the costs would reduce. There would be less confusion as to who represents us. There would be (just perhaps) less need to adjust ward and constituency boundaries so often. Accountability would be clearer.
Forty councillors will be quite enough for a city the size of Edinburgh – with a similar proportion of representation throughout Scotland.
• Cameron Rose is leader of the Conservative group on Edinburgh City Council