The Evening News on Monday reported that Archbishop Leo Cushley had raised concerns about a move by the Greens and Lib Dems Parties to “block voting rights (on the Education Committee) for religious representatives on schooling issues“. He saw the move as a threat to Catholic education in Edinburgh. His intervention quickly became national news. Although Greens in Glasgow have distanced themselves from the move, the Greens in Edinburgh are not backing down despite there being doubt that the move is even legal.
To be clear, I am absolutely committed to the continuance of Catholic education in Edinburgh and want the Catholic Church of Scotland to have a say in how it is delivered. As an Elder of the Church of Scotland, I also feel all faiths should be more vocal on issues of concern to society, and help give a voice to those that don’t have one. I feel having voting rights serves both those aims.
Last year I spoke informally to Rabbi David Rose about his involvement in the committee, and he was clear to me that he felt his involvement was worthwhile, but he seldom used his right to vote (Note – I don’t know his view on voting rights). I think he has now stood down and the position has moved to another faith, but I expect they will have the same experience. Faith leaders like Rabbi Rose are well connected to their communities and wider society, so there is no doubt they have a valuable contribution to make. However, speaking at Council Committee is very different from having voting rights.
I understand why people are concerned about this issue, but I think it’s right that all faith groups have a say on how schools operate – particularly the faith element. Any change to voting rights should be part of a wider discussion about faith education in schools and how stakeholders can have a say in it. Arbitrarily removing voting rights is not the answer.
Below is a briefing on the issue from Council Officers.
You may be receiving lobby letters regarding the voting rights of religious reps on the Education, Children and Families Committee. Ian would like to respond on behalf of the Labour Group and asks that you please send any letters through to him for a reply. Some background information you may find useful;
EC&F has three religious representatives (Catholic Church, Church of Scotland and Interfaith) and one parent representative. The parent representative is currently a non-voting member whilst the religious representatives have voting rights. This stems from the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 which states if an Education authority forms a Committee, it must include religious representatives. The act however says nothing on the voting rights of the religious members, this is at the discretion of the local authority. Previously, the Committee had a parent rep as a voting member and 2 teacher reps however as teachers are employees of the Council this was felt to be inappropriate and the positions removed.
Traditionally religious reps abstain from voting although there is nothing to prevent them doing so. Perth and Kinross Council have recently removed the voting rights of their religious reps following a decision in which the reps voted which resulted in a school closure. This has sparked interest in other local authorities and although there has been no legal challenge to the decision from Perth and Kinross, there are concerns there would be more attention focused on Edinburgh as the capital. This has gained particular attention from the Catholic Church with the Archbishop Leo Cushley writing to priests describing this as the first step in removing faith education from schools in Scotland.
A report in response to the Green motion will go to Council in August, the recommendations outline the legal position and ask elected members to decide whether to remove the voting rights. If these were to be removed, the religious reps would remain on the Committee as non-voting members.