Edinburgh Council ends religious reps’ voting powers

Posted: Thu, 31st Aug 2023

Decision to end voting privileges for unelected religious appointees at City of Edinburgh Council welcomed by NSS

Edinburgh Council ends religious reps’ voting powers

The City of Edinburgh Council has voted to end voting privileges for unelected religious appointees.

Councillors today voted in favour of removing voting concessions for the religious representatives sitting on the cabinet and education committees.

This is despite deputations from local religious groups appealing to the council to retain voting privileges.

The National Secular Society, which briefed councillors before the vote, welcomed the decision.

The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 obliges local authorities in Scotland to appoint three religious representatives to their education committees, at least one of whom must be appointed by the Roman Catholic Church and one by the Protestant Church of Scotland.

Such representatives have voting privileges in most councils, enabling them to influence local education policies affecting both faith and non-faith schools.

The City of Edinburgh Council is the fifth Scottish council this year to move to end voting powers for religious representatives. Orkney Council and the Highland Council voted to remove these privileges for in May, followed by Fife Council in June. Stirling Council's vote in June to only grant voting rights to elected members on decision making committees will come into effect in 2027.

The most recently available Scottish Social Attitudes Survey data shows 58% of Scots (including 74% of 18–34s) have no religion.

Green councillor Steve Burgess told local press: "We think that people elected by voters should be the ones to take decisions about schools because they can be held to account for their voting, whereas people who are not elected can't be.

"There are lots of other groups that have an interest in education who aren't represented. Even the parents' representatives don't have the vote."

NSS: Religious reps' voting privileges 'unsustainable'

Head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "We congratulate the City of Edinburgh Council for being the fifth Scottish council this year to vote to end the unfair privileges granted to religious representatives on education committees.

"That so many councils have made this move in the space of less than a year demonstrates the unsustainability of giving voting powers to unelected individuals based on their religious affiliation.

"It also calls into question the appropriateness of requiring councils to appoint religious representatives in the first place. The Scottish government must urgently review this increasingly outdated and unpopular law."

Image: Edinburgh City Chambers, the meeting place of the City of Edinburgh Council. AlasdairW, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Tags: Faith schools