Continuing what appears to be a never-ending series on democracy, we have another guest post, this one from Labour’s candidate for Edinburgh Eastern in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election, Ewan Aitken.  He’s very much an advocate of proportional electoral systems – and a new kind of politics – which you’ll discover below.

The first public election I took part in was back in 1982 in the student union elections at the University of Sussex. It was run under the single transferable vote system and having experienced it first hand I was a convert to proportional voting systems, (not just because I won either!)

Some 24 years later in 2006 I became Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council.  To have been Leader of Scotland’s capital city is a huge honour and one I remain deeply grateful to have received but it always struck me as unfair that I was leader because of a Labour majority based on a fraction under 28% of the vote.  That’s why, even though I knew it would mean we might lose power, I was in favour of PR for Local Government. As it happened we did lose by 6 votes on the 8th distribution in one ward (which meant that the seat distribution was 17 Lib Dems to our 15 rather than 16 each), but I still think proportionality is a better way to choose our decisions makers.

Proportionality gives three things to any voting system; it makes sure that anyone elected, (or in the case of closed list, their party), has majority support, its gives voters a greater sense of influence over who will make decisions on their behalf and it embeds in the voting system the idea that power should not be held in the hands of one party or group.

Its that third principle that leads me to say something will be perhaps a surprise to some.  Although I disagree with many of the decisions of the present Scottish Government, the fact that they have attempted to run a minority government has been good for the maturing of the Scottish Parliament and so for our democracy.

It means for transparency about the big decisions and a different dynamic for those not in office that is not solely about opposition.  We know, for example, why the Lib Dems and the Conservatives supported the budget recent motion. Voters can then decide whether or not the price of a parties vote meant that their priorities had been achieved.

I contrast this with the two partnership agreements between Labour and the Lib Dems. Although I believe they delivered more for Scotland than the present Government at one level, the way the agreements were structured and portrayed restricted the ability of those administrations to be as radical as they wanted to be and as responsive as they needed to be at times to changing circumstances. There were times when what we needed was not what had been agreed two or three years previously (often with very specific numeric targets), but to change the agreement would have been portrayed as having failed or as a sign that the coalition breaking up.

Minority Government does not necessarily mean that decisions are fewer in number or achieved more slowly as has sometimes been suggested. What is does demand is a greater and more developed ability to negotiate and collaborate with those from different parties that our conflict culture allows for at present.

At local government level the problem we have is that we have a new way of counting the votes but and old way of doing politics, Edinburgh being a prime example. So for local authorities I would embed proportionality in the distribution of power into the structures. The largest party would nominate the leader and whoever chairs the Council. Other positions would then be distributed proportionally to the number of seats held by each party. The job of the leader would be to manage a coalition that is created structurally not by political deal. Each party would be hold some responsibility to help deliver for their authority and have to reach agreement with others for the services for which they have responsibility. What they would then bring to the voters at elections would be their track record of delivery in a context of having achieving collaboration and move away from the conflict culture that pervades and undermines local authority debates and decision-making.

Neither system is perfect. This article is not a criticism of partnership agreements or of my party for entering into two of them. It is a reflection that on balance, minority Government might achieve more in terms of changing political culture through its processes. As ever, the challenge is to find a system that at least reflects the principles of transparency and collaboration even it involves some frustrations as well.