Choose between constituency and list, MSPs told

A move to ban 'rejected' MSPs from securing a return to Holyrood through the 'safety net' of the regional list system has been launched.

Party leaders have all benefited from Holyroods dual system. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Dozens of current MSPs lost out in Holyrood elections in first-past-the-post constituency contests – only to be returned on the “top-up” list.

All the current party leaders in Scotland, including Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson, have at some time benefited from the “safety net” set-up.

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But the move is now being branded “entirely undemocratic” in a petition which has been lodged with MSPs at Holyrood calling for an end to the practice. Instead, it demands that candidates should be made to choose between a constituency seat or the list.

Campaigner James Cassidy from Edinburgh, who has lodged the petition, insists that the current system smacks of a stitch-up among the political elite.

“They say that with the House of Lords people can be put in there and can never be removed. For me this is a similar situation,” he said.

“Politicians, if they play the game right, can put themselves in a position where they can never really be removed from Holyrood.”

The Scottish Parliament voting system sees 73 MSPs elected in first-past-the-post constituencies, similar to Westminster. But there is also a top-up list of 56 MSPs elected by proportional representation, with the aim of ensuring a fairer deal for smaller parties.

All five party leaders at Holyrood have, currently or in the past, lost out in the first-past-the-post-constituency seat but been elected on the list.

Sturgeon was defeated twice in the Glasgow Govan seat in 1999 and 2003 by Labour before parachuting in on the list, while Davidson lost out in Glasgow Kelvin in 2011 before being elected on the Conservative list. Kezia Dugdale lost out in Edinburgh Eastern in last year’s election but returned on the Lothians list.

Of the 56 MSPs elected on the list last year, a total 36 lost out in constituency contests.

The petition adds: “Representing the people of Scotland is a privilege granted by the people not a right. By allowing candidates who have clearly been rejected by the electorate to be elected despite the electorate’s wishes is an affront to democracy.”

So called “dual candidacies” in the devolved parliaments of the UK have long been controversial. In Wales, a ban was imposed on candidates standing in both the first past the post system and regional list after a notorious result at the 2007 election in Clwyd West. The seat was won by Labour’s Alan Pugh, but all three of his main rivals from the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru were returned via the list.