03 March 2011

S3M-8058 Scottish Parliament Elections

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8058, in the name of Alex Salmond, on the 2015 election. Time for speeches is tight.

... ... ...
The Presiding Officer: I call Stewart Stevenson. You may make speech number 401, but you have only three minutes, Mr Stevenson.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

When I consider the signatories to the motion and what I have heard in the debate thus far, I suspect that there will be a degree of unanimity at decision time.

When we look at the processes of democracy it is always useful to consider history and experience elsewhere. The President of Iceland, for example, is elected for a single year and he or she may not stand again for a further 10 years after one term of office, because the presidency is a symbolic role. In Australia, at Prime Minister’s question time, each question is timed out after seven minutes, whether or not the participants have finished.

Perhaps the example that touches most vividly on the issue that is before us comes from the United States, where people are faced with a vast array of propositions, which might be associated with presidential or state elections. It is worth considering the effect of such an approach. As is the case here, in the US there is space in the media for debate about only one essential election, which is generally the presidential election, the gubernatorial election or the elections to the Senate. The propositions—we would call them referenda—receive scant attention.

There is a real danger when a series of unrelated decisions that an elector has to make are drawn together to be dealt with in a single visit to the polling booth. I apply that not only to the co-incidence of a UK Parliament election and a Scottish Parliament election but, of course, to the forthcoming referendum on the alternative vote, about which there has been no public hubbub and little comment. Not a single constituent has raised it with me.

Let us not imagine that we are introducing something new with AV. We used to have multimember, single transferable vote seats in the Westminster Parliament. The last general election in which that was the case was 1945. We saw the ludicrous situation of Graham Kerr, a Conservative who received 1,361 votes in the first ballot in an overall vote of 32,786—4.15 per cent of the first-preference votes—nonetheless getting elected on the second ballot.

Perhaps the Conservatives will support the AV referendum after all, because it certainly can lead to results for them. However, we need to have the debate, and we can do that only if there is time for it.

It is a great pleasure to speak on the motion. I, of course, will support the unanimity that I expect to see at 5 o’clock and I hope that everyone else will do so as well.


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