29 November 2001

S1M-2487 Local Government Elections (Proportional Representation)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 29 November 2001

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Local Government Elections
(Proportional Representation)

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The first item of business is an SNP debate on motion S1M-2487, in the name of Tricia Marwick, on proportional representation in local government elections, and one amendment to that motion.


... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The last speaker in the open debate is Stewart Stevenson.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Last, but I hope not least, Presiding Officer.

The Lib Dems have set themselves an ambitious target, which is to deliver PR in a longer time scale than the 100 years it took the Labour party to deliver a Scottish Parliament. How goes that project so far?

Ian Jenkins (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: A wee bit later.

Any project has three parts: a beginning, a middle and an end. The end is the most important. Perhaps we have seen the beginning. The Liberals say that they support PR. Mike Rumbles even says that it is a principle. Well, fancy that. They are probably in the middle—or perhaps it is a muddle—because they will not seize the initiative and build a coalition that will deliver at the end of this project.

The philosopher Joubert said:

"It is better to debate an issue without deciding it than to decide an issue without debating it."

We know which part of that the Liberals adhere to. Their aim is clearly to debate, to debate, to debate. Perhaps Mike Rumbles gave the game away when he preferred to use the word wait, which he did three times.

We may have seen a Liberal idea whose time has come and, surprisingly enough, it is PR. John McAllion referred to Asquith, and I shall refer to Lloyd George, who succeeded Asquith in power. Lloyd George started to sell peerages in the 1920s. I have a confession to make: my father's cousin bought a peerage from Lloyd George. [MEMBERS: "Shame."] Absolutely disgraceful.

Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West): What did he pay for it?

Stewart Stevenson: He paid £25,000. That was PR in the Liberal party: patronage rewarded, an idea adopted wholesale by new Labour. Let us hope that we have success in the modern PR that is being adopted by new Labour.

The PR of patronage rewarded is corruption in politics. It is time to remember why we are all here. I think that we are all democrats. It is not for riches, nor for glory, nor for personal self-aggrandisement that we should be here, but to represent a population who believe in a democracy that can deliver for them and that they can influence. That population has a fading confidence in us, to judge by the turnout at elections. We can rebuild confidence only by giving people the opportunity to elect into power the people that they vote for.

Let us remember what the word democracy means. It derives from the Greek word demos, which means the people. If we do not look to the people, trust the people and empower the people, we will lose the people.


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