New West Lothian council urged to scrap ‘votes for churches’

Campaigners from Humanist Society Scotland have called on West Lothian councillors to ensure religious groups do not get a privileged say over how schools are run against the wishes of the local electorate.

By Kevin Quinn
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 2:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 2:57 pm

In 2019 Blaringone primary school in Perth and Kinross was earmarked for closure due to the deciding votes of unelected church representatives. While the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires councils to appoint religious representatives to committees considering education matters, after the Blaringone case the Scottish Government made clear each local authority could decide whether religious representatives got to vote or not.

Leading the call to remove undemocratic votes for churches, Fraser Sutherland Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said: “Given Scotland’s proportional voting system for councils, new and returning councillors in West Lothian will know that every decision made will involve negotiations and close votes. What they won’t be considering is that any decisions they may take on education can be overturned on the say-so of unelected representatives from Scotland’s churches and religious institutions’

“West Lothian councillors need to take action now so that only those voted in democratically will have a say on local schooling. We urge West Lothian council to bring forward a motion or new rules of engagement for non-elected church representatives to remove their voting rights.”

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A West Lothian Council spokesperson said: “We currently have religious, teaching and parent representatives on the council’s Education Executive. All these representatives have voting rights on the committee as a long-standing arrangement.

“We also have representatives from a number of relevant community groups and organisations take part in various Policy Development Scrutiny Panels, as part of our approach to ensure different stakeholder voices are heard as part of the process for setting council policy.

“Any decision to change the voting rights would be a matter for elected members to decide, with a recent review in November 2021 agreeing to continue with the current arrangements.”

Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of Humanist Society Scotland. Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament.