Local News

Orkney Councillors Remove Voting Rights of Unelected Religious Representatives

Should unelected religious representatives have voting rights on the Education Committee in Orkney?

The answer from Orkney’s councillors was a vote to remove voting rights from the religious representatives on the Education, Leisure and Housing Committee by 12 votes to 9.

The issue was brought before the whole Council on Wednesday 3rd of May by two of Orkney’s Green Councillors, John Ross Scott and Kristopher Leask.

Teacher representatives on the committee – can attend and be invited to speak – but cannot vote.

Across Scotland there is a mixture of how local authorities deal with membership of the Education Committees, it is up to our councillors on whether or not religious representatives – who have not been elected in a council election – get to vote on matters concerning council funded educational/learning provision in the islands.

This was the motion which was debated:

There were no declarations of interest from any councillors before the debate started.

The Education, Leisure and Housing Committee of OIC is made up of 12 councillors, 3 religious representatives and 2 teacher representatives as follows: :

  • Councillor Graham A Bevan.
  • Councillor Stephen G Clackson.
  • Councillor Alexander G Cowie.
  • Councillor Steven B Heddle.
  • Councillor Rachael A King.
  • Councillor James R Moar.
  • Councillor John A R Scott.
  • Councillor Gwenda M Shearer (Chair).
  • Councillor Jean E Stevenson (Vice Chair).
  • Councillor James W Stockan.
  • Councillor Ivan A Taylor.
  • Councillor Heather N Woodbridge.
    Religious Representatives
  • Reverend Susan Kirkbride.
  • Marie Locke.
  • Reverend Fraser Macnaughton.
    Teacher Representatives
  • Jo Hill.
  • Dr Mary Male

In moving his motion , Councillor John Ross Scott, stressed that they were not asking for the removal of religious representatives from the committee. For Fairness and Equality, he said, they should have an advisory role, as the teacher reps do, but without voting rights. No one who is unaccountable to the electorate, he continued, should be able to vote on council policy. He added that spiritual care was extremely important.

Fellow Green councillor Kristopher Leask, who seconded the motion, said that it was an ‘outdated way of doing things.’

Opposing the motion was Councillor Dawson who questioned the ‘real motives’ behind the debate. He said that this was all part of the secularisation of Scottish society. He felt that religious representatives should have a vote not just on educational matters but on other issues the committee decides, for instance, housing.

Councillor Manson put forward an amendment which was to defer any decision so that the religious organisations affected could be consulted out of ‘common respect for a long established tradition.’ This was seconded by Councillor Stockan

Eight other councillors agreed with Councillor Manson to defer the decision but 12 voted for the motion including the current Chair and Vice Chair of the Education and Leisure Committee.

The voting was as follows:

For the Motion: Leask, Hall, Thomson, Woodbridge, Scott, King, Stevenson, Tullock, Shearer, Peace, Tierney, and Heddle

For the Amendment: Clarkson, Dawson, Moar, Skuse, Bevan, Manson, Cowie, Stockan, and Taylor

Commenting after the meeting of the full council, Councillor Scott said:

“Religious representatives having votes on Education committees across Scotland is an anomaly when teacher, union, student and parent representatives do not. While votes are not often taken in Orkney there are examples which show that the three potential votes can undermine the role of elected representatives.

“It amazes me that this outdated rule of having three religious reps has been allowed to stand since 1948. I am sure other authorities will follow the move taken by OIC today.”

Fraser Sutherland, CEO of the Humanist Society Scotland said:

“We are glad to hear of the decision by Orkney council to ensure that decisions on local issues are taken democratically by elected members who are accountable to the electorate. Giving voting rights to churches gives them more say on how schools are run than teachers, pupils and parents. Other local authorities across Scotland should reflect on Orkney’s decision today and review their own voting arrangements.”

Firth Primary School beside the Bay of Firth with the Old Primary school in the distance

FIona Grahame

2 replies »

  1. I am glad to see the voting rights of religious reps go. My formative years as a child were dominated by the bigotry of the then education committee of orkney islands council against my socialist aetheist father. He was discriminated against for promotion in Orkney due to the small c conservative views of the powerful religious lobby who influenced teacher appointments at the time. He did eventually become head teacher of Stromness Academy and a revered educationalist throughout Scotland. Notwithstanding how progressive modern day religious reps may think they are, gving them a vote is anti democratic. I am disappointed that 2 out of my 3 Stromness councillors took an anti democratic stance on this.

  2. I always failed to see why religion should play any role in education, in schools or in any form of government, local or national. Impacts on formative years as a child were mentioned in the other reply. Yes, they exist. In my case these were not due to experienced discrimination (I did not even know that my father was an atheist until I explained to him that I was one) but rather due to being exposed to what I felt was a forced exercise: prayers at school each morning, a mandatory subject called religious education and so forth. In my personal opinion, beliefs are a private matter if one wants to hold any. None of them should in any way interfere with education or its delivery.
    In times like these, it is important to be a decent person with respect for others so that society can function.
    This can probably even better be achieved without any religious influence in educational settings and education delivery which always risks indoctrination of some form.

Leave a Reply