The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires councils to appoint religious representatives to committees considering education matters.
Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities have spaces for three religious representatives on committees which deal with education.
In Orkney Rev Fraser Macnaughton, Minister of St Magnus Cathedral has described his appointment to the OIC Education, Leisure and Housing Committee as a ‘privilege’ .
Campaigners who are members of the Humanist Society want the voting rights of the religious representatives removed from committee decision making. They recognise that councils are required to have religious representatives sitting on a committee which deals with education. The religious representatives are not elected at the local authority elections but are put forward by their church.
The campaigners cite the example of Blaringone primary school in Perth and Kinross, In 2019 it was earmarked for closure due to the deciding votes of the church representatives. Elected councillors had voted to keep it open in a close vote. But say the campaigners the votes from clergy sealed the school’s fate in what one community leader described as having ‘a devastating effect on the community’. At the time one local councillor described it as ‘a democratic outrage’ while another said ‘I haven’t spoken to a single person who hasn’t been appalled’. After that decision Perth and Kinross Council became the first authority in Scotland to withdraw voting rights from religious representatives sitting on education committees.
After the Blaringone case the Scottish Government made clear each local authority could decide whether religious representatives got to vote or not.
Fraser Sutherland Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:
“Orkney councillors need to take action now so that only those voted in democratically will have a say on local schooling. We urge Orkney council to bring forward a motion or new rules of engagement for non-elected church representatives to remove their voting rights.”