Our Policy, Performance and Scrutiny Committee was held today in my old hometown of Motherwell. This was to allow several members of our committee and myself to participate in an event organised jointly by North Lanarkshire Council and APSE on the impact proportional representation (PR) will have on the functioning of Scottish local government, when it kicks in at next years local elections in May.
It is anticipated that this will change the political landscape in Scotland from one where many local authorities have been run under the outright control of a political party (normally Labour) to a situation where almost all will have no overall control. It's a strange time with many long standing friends, from all parties, leaving local government and I can't help but feel that it will take a long time to bed down post May.
PR has been in place in local government in Northern Ireland for many years and Councillors and Officers from Lisburn and Derry had come across to the event to share their experiences. Despite the system being in place for over 30 years there was still some horror stories about 20,000 spoiled ballot papers and it sounds incredibly complex for the electorate who are normally used to just making their cross.
Cllr Richard Williams, from Southampton, also spoke of his experience of working in the most marginal council in the United Kingdom, it has 16 Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem Councillors on a 48 member authority. The mind boggles about operating in this environment and I am told that the whips don't allow you to go to the toilet once the meeting starts in case your opposite numbers call for a vote when you leave the room.
I always enjoy speaking at events in the Civic Centre as it is only half a mile from where I was brought up and where my parents still live. I guess the local authority is also in my blood as my grandfathers brother used to be the Provost in the 1950's.