Perth and Kinross Council has become the first authority in Scotland to withdraw voting rights from religious representatives sitting on education committees.
The decision follows the contentious move to close a five-pupil primary last month, which was swung by the votes of two Church-appointed non-elected members who sit on the council’s Lifelong Learning Committee.
Yesterday morning councillors voted in favour of a motion tabled by independent councillor Xander McDade to amend council regulations so that, as of next month, only elected committee members can vote. Now the Humanist Society Scotland is urging all other councils across the country to follow suit.
The charity has called on the local authorities' body Cosla to “urgently” review the status and power given to religious representatives.
'A matter of democracy'
Mr McDade is quoted in The Courier newspaper explaining that his motion was not directly based on the decision made by the Lifelong Learning Committee, but rather a statement issued by the Scottish government shortly after.
It clarified that while councils were required to appoint religious representatives on education committees, their voting rights were “a matter for each local authority”.
Mr McDade said: “This is quite simply a matter of democracy.
“It is my fundamental belief that no one who is unaccountable to the electorate should be able to vote on public policy.”
I haven’t spoken to a single person who hasn’t been appalled by the fact that the decision to close this small rural school was swung by the votes of unelected religious representatives. The majority of democratically elected members voted to keep it open. https://t.co/kMoh8u7LXN— Xander McDade (@XanderMcDade) March 28, 2019
Humanist Society Scotland’s campaign manager, Fraser Sutherland, welcomed the move. “It is clear that important decisions relating to education should be done on a democratic basis by people who can be held to account by the electorate,” he said.
“There is, of course, nothing to stop faith groups participating in discussions relating to local education in the same manner as any other interested local community group.”
A Church of Scotland spokesman said that already some Church representatives chose to abstain from voting. He added the church would continue to encourage its representatives “to engage in this important and vital part of community life and do all that they can to ensure that Scotland is a place where young people can have the best possible start to life”.
The row over voting rights came to the fore at Perth and Kinross Council as a result of the decision in March to close Blairingone Primary at the end of this school year. Elected members voted seven to six to keep the school open, but the vote was swung towards closure by two religious representatives who supported the recommendation to close.
The decision was widely criticised by parents and community councillors.