COUNCILLORS will consult with faith leaders before deciding whether to strip “completely outdated and undemocratic” voting rights for unelected religious representatives.
Three religious representatives are currently voting members of the city council’s education, children and families committee – but proposals to remove the voting rights will be brought back later this year.
Frank Lennon from the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh told councillors that proposals to scrap the voting rights would lead to a “significant change to a partnership that has existed for 100 years” and would “seriously undermine the trust that has been built up over many decades”.
He added: “The case for this change has quite simply not been made and should not go ahead until significant public consultation has been held.”
Green and Liberal Democrat councillors called for the voting rights to be formally removed – but it was unanimously agreed to delay the decision until November for consultation to take place.
Since May 2017, Catholic representatives have only turned up for five out of 14 education committees- 36 per cent – a lower rate than any other religious group.
Green Cllr Mary Campbell said: “In this debate there has been compelling evidence that having a unique voting privilege for religious representatives on education committee is outdated for 21st century Edinburgh. It also emerged that religious representatives actually attend far less than the parent representative, which is at odds with the claim that the right to vote is a precious right which must be defended at all costs.
“I believe that it’s a decision the council must take sooner or later but if a short delay to engage further is helpful I am happy to support that.”
Humanist Society Scotland chief executive, Fraser Sutherland told councillors that “they don’t have to have a voting right on education committee for their voice to be heard”.
He added: “Everyone should be treated the same, no matter what their faith is. They are not accountable to the electorate.”
Education, children and families convener, Cllr Ian Perry said a “series of meetings with the faith community” would take place before a decision was taken.
He added: “As far as I’m concerned, this debate should not be construed as a direct attack on any faith group.
“It’s not the start of the process of removing faith schools in Edinburgh. We need to think very carefully before we disenfranchise a group that has had voting rights for 46 years.”
After the meeting, Mr Sutherland added: “The current system which allows three representatives of religious groups the right to vote on how schools are run is completely outdated and undemocratic. The fact that over half of Edinburgh’s population has no religious beliefs makes this even more jarring. It also freezes out members of other religious communities in Edinburgh from the decision making process.
”Parents, teachers and pupils all have less say on how their schools are run than three religious groups. This is entirely undefendable in the 21st Century. There is a democratic deficit and religious imbalance in the current set up which must change.”
Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said: “I am very grateful for the enormous support the archdiocese has received from councillors and from people concerned about this motion.
“We look forward to a constructive and positive exchange of views so that the ability of religious representatives to vote on matters affecting denominational schools continues.”