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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee 21 September 2021

Agenda: Interests, Decision on Taking Business in Private, Local Government, Housing and Planning, Electoral Arrangements Regulations


Contents


Electoral Arrangements Regulations

Under the next agenda item, the committee has the opportunity to take further evidence to inform its consideration of the regulations that give effect to Boundaries Scotland’s recommendations relating to six local authority areas. This week, the committee will hear from Boundaries Scotland on its recommendations. I warmly welcome, from Boundaries Scotland, Ronnie Hinds, who is the chair; Ailsa Henderson, who is the deputy chair; and Colin Wilson, who is the review manager for the Scottish boundary commissions secretariat.

I acknowledge Boundaries Scotland’s good work in making its recommendations. It was good to read about it and to see the criteria that were used. I am very aware that Boundaries Scotland is a fairly small unit of people, so you did a good job. You had to work with the criteria, and that has led to different responses, depending on the local authority that we have talked to. We will get into that this morning.

I invite Elena Witham to ask the first questions.

I welcome the representatives from Boundaries Scotland.

Boundaries Scotland recommended that North West Sutherland and Wester Ross should have fewer councillors. Why was that recommendation made, given the size of those areas? What impact might that have on the depopulation trends that we have seen over the past few decades? Will those trends be exacerbated by the recommendation? I direct those questions to Ronnie Hinds, as the chair of Boundaries Scotland.

We have rehearsed the division of responsibilities between us, so I will direct the questions to the person who is best placed to answer them. I will start and then ask Colin Wilson to supplement what I have said.

Our responsibility is to look at the council area as a whole. By necessity, if we are doing a review and there have been population and electorate shifts since the previous review, the likely result will be that the number of councillors will go up in some wards and down in others. In the northern part of the Highlands, the population is increasing more slowly than the population of the Highlands as a whole, particularly around Inverness. We have to reflect that in the number of councillors that we recommend and in our proposals for specific wards.

When we first looked at the matter, we considered reducing the number of councillors for Caithness and Sutherland from 14 to 11, but we listened to the responses that we received not only from councillors in the area but from the public. We recognised that that change would be too dramatic, so we now recommend that there should be 13 councillors, which would be a reduction of one councillor in that area. To put that in perspective, we recommend that the number of councillors for Inverness, which is a greater area, should increase by one.

The council will have spoken to the committee about the impact, and it is better placed than we are to make those arguments. We have to put councillors where the electorate is—it cannot be the reverse. That is the explanation for why things came out in the way that they did.

Colin Wilson might wish to add to that.

As Ronnie Hinds said, we look at the whole council area. The redesign affected Wester Ross. Wester Ross currently has about 10,000 electors but, with our boundary change at Strathpeffer, it has lost about 2,500. Therefore, about a quarter of the electorate has transferred out of the existing Wester Ross ward. If we consider the numbers and electoral parity, which is the main thing that we look at, the position has slightly improved in the Wester Ross ward.

Thank you.

Good morning, everyone. Why were island communities impact assessments not carried out in relation to the proposals for Skye and Arran? Such assessments are required under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018.

Again, I can respond, and Colin Wilson might add a bit more flavour.

We took advice on that question from the Scottish Government, among others, and we were told that, because the work that we were doing was being carried out under the auspices of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the whole point of it was to try to recognise the specific characteristics of island communities, a separate impact assessment was unnecessary. We set out the reasoning in our reports and on our website. We do not think that a separate assessment would have added anything to what we did, and we were following the advice that we had been given.

Does Colin Wilson want to comment on that?

Colin Wilson

I have nothing to add. Ronnie Hinds has made all the points that I was going to make.

You are saying that whatever might have been done by way of an island communities impact assessment had, in effect, already been done. Is that correct?

When we were asking ourselves what kind of ward boundaries we wanted for Skye and Arran, for example, we had options. Let me give an example. One of the things that we considered in relation to Skye, but which we did not propose, was that, to get better electoral parity in Skye, we could have a ward that was not just Skye but included part of the mainland. In coming to the conclusion that we did not want to have such a ward, we were undertaking, in essence, a form of island impact assessment, because our reasoning was that we wanted to respect the island as a distinct entity. We have done that with all the major islands that are part of the review. That is what I mean when I say that an impact assessment is an intrinsic part of our work.

I have a more general question about the geographical size of some current and proposed wards. I will use Arran as an illustration, although North Ayrshire Council is happy with the proposal for Arran. The proposal is for a single-member ward that covers 167 square miles. Just across the water, on the mainland, the Saltcoats and Stevenston ward has five councillors and covers 15 square miles. That seems to be a huge difference. Why is no consideration given to the extent of the area that a councillor must get round in order to carry out their duties?

Again, I can start by offering a couple of thoughts, but Ailsa Henderson is probably our resident expert on such matters.

The size of the area is part of our thinking, because one of the main criteria in our methodology is a measure of population sparsity. The two things are correlated: if there is a big area and a small population, sparsity is an issue. We consider size quite carefully.

More specifically, to get to the heart of what I think you are asking, we are thoughtful about how the councillors actually do their work. Obviously, technology makes a big difference these days, as we are proving right now in this meeting.

A few years ago, we carried out research on the make-up of the councillors’ workloads to inform our thinking about these matters. One of the surprising and slightly counterintuitive results was that councillors spend a relatively low proportion of their time travelling in the ward or the wider council area. It turns out that they spend much more of their time dealing with the business of the council. As a former local authority chief executive, that should not surprise me.

I am not saying that the fact that people have to cover big distances is not important, but it is not as important as we might think. Ailsa Henderson can say more about the issue of size.

For me, it is helpful to think about why the wards in certain areas are particularly large. One reason why we have large wards is that we have fewer councillors per voter in Scotland. In parts of the country, there are higher proportions of people who are living in small settlements, and we also have an electoral system for local government that requires multimember wards. When we add all of those things together—fewer councillors to go around, populations in smaller settlements and the need to have multimember wards—by definition almost, we will end up with the capacity to have geographically large wards in those areas where there are small portions of the population.

It is important to note that that is not particularly unusual in Europe. I know that there was a comment last week that those are the largest wards in Europe, but they are not. There are electoral systems in Norway and Sweden in which single wards are larger than an entire local authority area in Scotland. Highland Council covers 26,000km2, but there are single wards in Norway and Sweden that are 20,000km2 or even 74,000km2. We are talking about a spectrum, and Scotland is not on the extreme end of it.

But those wards have multiple members. The ward on Arran is a single-member ward, and the principle that I thought that we had embraced involves multimember wards. Why do we not have two members for Arran?

Because there is not an electoral geography to justify a two-member ward, if we are keeping to the ratio within the council area.

I am straying into a different topic now, so I will hand back to Ronnie Hinds soon, but we were pleased to have the flexibility that was provided by the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and also the flexibility to have larger wards of up to five members on the mainland. When we began the consultation process with councils, we tried to make the most of that flexibility and asked the councils what they preferred. Some of them preferred island-only wards that had a smaller number of councillors, and other areas preferred different things. We very much tried to tailor our approach to what we were hearing from the councils in our iterative consultation process, but also to what we were hearing from members of the public. Different local authorities had different preferences for what they wanted, and we tried to meet those demands where we could.

Thank you for those responses.

I would like to explore the concerns that were raised by Margaret Davidson of Highland Council about the Aird and Loch Ness ward, which is to be split. Highland Council’s view is that the areas around Loch Ness form a community because of their connection to that place, and that the proposal to split the ward would be disruptive.

11:30  

I can start, but Colin Wilson will probably be able to provide more detail on the consultation process in that area.

It is worth pointing out that the existing ward was created following the previous review, so it has been around for only five years. It is not like some of the wards in the northern part of the Highlands, where we were very attentive to the comments that were made about history and tradition—it does not have those aspects.

Another point is that, although we got responses in that ward, as we did in most wards in the Highlands and in other areas, there was not, in our eyes, a voluminous response in favour of the status quo. There were voices on both sides of the argument. Against that, we looked in particular at the benefit of changing the ward with regard to the Inverness area. We tried to look at that as a whole. Colin Wilson might be able to comment on that.

In addition, one of the requirements of our work is to find easily identifiable boundaries, and I genuinely think that the middle of Loch Ness is a pretty easily identifiable boundary. There is a mixture of considerations, as there always is in reaching a judgment on such matters, but those were the factors that we considered for that ward.

Overall, we had about 280 responses to the public consultation. There were only 24 responses on the Aird and Loch Ness ward, so there was not strong opposition to the proposals. The boundary has been amended to create a more easily identifiable boundary, and the relevant part of Inverness is now in more of an Inverness ward. The existing ward includes a small part of Inverness and the more rural Loch Ness area.

We got some comments, which mentioned several main issues: too many councillors, with some people looking for a two-member ward; local ties being broken; and the size of wards. There were also suggestions to amend the boundary by Fort Augustus, which we did at the end of the review.

I will move on to the process of calculating total and ward councillor allocations. I know that Boundaries Scotland uses data for some of the councils—I know, for example, that you look at the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, which covers income, employment, education, health and so on. I would like a bit more explanation of that practice. Is that an appropriate basis on which to compare councils? What is the thinking behind it? It obviously determines councillor numbers. I would like to know more about the criteria and how you arrived at the calculations.

Again, Ailsa Henderson is more of an expert on that than I am, but I can offer a couple of preliminary thoughts while she gathers hers.

Before the previous set of reviews, we revised our methodology fundamentally and brought in the SIMD data. Part of the thinking behind that, which is relevant to some of the discussion this morning, was that we felt that, prior to that, the only criterion that we were working with was to do with population sparsity and density. Although that is important, the everyday reality of electing, and being represented by, councillors involves a lot of other social and economic factors. We felt that those elements were missing from the discussion, so we brought them into what is now a combined, and fairly complex, methodology that tries to reflect those different realities.

It is not just about how easy it is to manage the geography, whether that is in a city or a rural area; it is also about the nature of the work with which councillors are confronted. We felt that that was relevant to how we come up with councillor numbers as part of our overall ward design work.

That is the general background. As I said, Ailsa Henderson will be able to articulate the position better than I can.

It is nice to be able to chat about the methodology and to explain what we were thinking at the time and the effect of the changes.

When we began the fifth reviews, we had consultation evidence from the reaction to the fourth reviews. It showed that people were broadly supportive of categorising councils—which was also reflected in the evidence last week—but that they wanted a reduction in the number of categories from the seven that we had before and a reduction in the range of ratios of electors to councillors. They wanted a narrower range and a more equal system across Scotland as a whole. At the same time, as Ronnie Hinds explained, we were aware not only that we were counting things twice but that the Scottish Government had started using different methods to categorise councils.

We therefore made two changes. We had a measure relating to the size of the settlement that people live in, which used to be the proportion of the electorate living in settlements with a population of 10,000 or less. We brought that down to those with a population of 3,000 or less, because we thought that the focus should be more on smaller settlements and that we should be more sensitive to rural geographies.

The second change that we made was to use the SIMD, which includes data on income, crime and housing but also on how people access Government services. Given that we are supposed to devise boundaries with an eye to effective and convenient local government, we also wanted to include something that directly targets the extent to which people use certain services and how they access them. That includes travel time to different services by private car and by public transportation. We used those two things as two different axes to categorise the councils and ended up with five categories, so councils are categorised as “more rural, more deprived”, “more rural, less deprived” and so on. There are different cut points across those axes.

Having categorised the councils, we sat down and tried to sort out what ratios we could use that would create a more equal system across Scotland as a whole and would deliver roughly the same number of councillors. Although we were not stuck to a specific number, we did not have any guidance to radically change the system of local government in Scotland, so we tried to end up in roughly the same place. We calculated the numbers that gave us a certain number of councillors and took into account the minimum and maximum size of councils. The minimum was 18 and the maximum was 80. However, we lifted the maximum a little bit to 85, because Glasgow was predicted as needing about 165 councillors. We also imposed a 10 per cent cap on change to minimise disruption for councillors.

We used those council numbers as a guide—I am so excited about methodology, which is why I keep talking about it—and if we were able to get what we felt was a better ward design by moving the numbers around and increasing councillor numbers, we went with the higher numbers. We were not hidebound by a mathematical formula that gave us a number from which we refused to deviate.

The inclusion of data on deprivation does not bounce the numbers around very much. If we had used the old criteria and the two things that we looked at, we would have ended up in roughly the same place in terms of councillor numbers: 17 councils would have had exactly the same numbers if we had used the old methodology, including all six council areas that we reviewed under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018.

Thank you for that extensive answer.

Yes—thank you, Ailsa. You are getting me excited about methodology, too.

I have a supplementary question. Your work was carried out primarily before Covid. Although I do not know the specific numbers, now that we can work remotely, we have had the news that a lot of people are choosing to move to the Highlands. Should we be aware that populations will change?

That is a great question. In relation to Covid, it is worth mentioning that, under the legislation, we have the power to carry out interim reviews. The legislation has been designed to provide for the possibility of unusual fluctuations in population, primarily within a council area. It might be 10 to 15 years before a full review is due, but we can carry out an interim review that looks at only part of a council area, or even a particular ward. In relation to our resilience against the effects of Covid on the factors that influence our work, that is the power that we would turn to.

The Culloden and Ardersier ward in the Highlands is a good example of that. The projections for the increase in population there were quite dramatic because of developments that you will know far more about than I do. However, when we looked at the numbers over the past few years, we came to the view that the trajectory on which the population was increasing did not match the forecast that would have led to a significant increase in the electorate and, therefore, in councillor numbers. We decided that Covid might have had something to do with that. Even though work was in progress, development had stalled, so we decided that the safer thing to do was to leave the ward as it is. However, it will definitely be a candidate for an interim review if the council’s projections for the increase in population in the area are borne out in fact. We are not prevented from doing something about that in the short to medium term.

Would having variations in the councillor-to-voter ratio impact on effective and convenient local government? We have touched on the size and scale of wards, but my question is about the benefits to communities of having a similar councillor-to-voter ratio across all wards.

Ailsa Henderson and I can perhaps do a double header on that question, too. I will kick off.

The thrust of the question is about how much importance should be attached to parity alongside other considerations. My view and the view of the commission is that parity is paramount for a reason. It is not a numbers game, but that is sometimes how it is dismissed by people; it is about electoral fairness, which is fundamental. The legislation is intended to create a system in which, as far as possible, every vote counts equally within a given council area. That principle needs to be enshrined and respected, so that is what we try to do.

However, we are not enslaved by that, which is why we are able to make good use of our other discretions. We have mentioned some of those—the main one relates to special geographic circumstances. You can see from our proposals for Highland Council and Argyll and Bute Council that we are prepared to tolerate quite significant variations from parity in order to respect other factors, including community identity and the specific characteristics of islands. The fact that parity holds everything together does not mean that we are restricted to only a numbers game. That is important.

I will quickly make one other observation. If we took at face value and did what Highland Council has asked for in the review—different ratios within a council area to demonstrate that parity is not the be-all and end-all—the result would be that the four most northern wards in the Highlands, which have some of the most sparsely populated communities, would have 37 councillors. That is what would happen if there were the same ratios as used for the islands, which is what Highland Council has asked for. That demonstrates that parity matters, because, in a council with 74 members, it does not make sense for half of them to come from the most sparsely populated area.

It is not an abstract or theoretical issue; it is quite practical. We are careful about getting anywhere close to a position in which one area might feel genuinely underrepresented compared with another, so we use our discretion in relation to special geographic circumstances.

Ailsa Henderson

Do you want me to chip in as well?

Yes.

It is worth pointing out that the legislation requires the ratios of electors to councillors to be as near to the same as possible. The legislation not only requires us to pay attention to parity—which is elsewhere in the schedule 6 rules—but is based on the notion that electoral parity is a fundamental feature of how we distribute councillors and design wards. That is not just a quirk of the legislation in Scotland; it is a fundamental principle of electoral fairness in free and fair electoral democracies.

11:45  

The European Commission for Democracy through Law—or the Venice commission—was set up in 1990, and it has 60 to 62 members. The UK is a member of that commission. In 2002, the commission outlined what it thought was best practice in designing electoral wards. It said that three things were important: the equality of the vote, the impartiality of the decisions and, specifically, the role of a committee where the role of parties is limited. We cannot have the people who are going to be elected by certain rules setting the boundaries by which they will be elected. They have to be one step removed from that.

The commission was clear about equality of the vote. The departure from the norm should not be more than 10 per cent and never over 15 per cent, except in particular and very specific circumstances, such as a demographically weak area that does not have a large population and has to have a single member. That would be akin to the protected constituencies in Westminster elections, such as the Western Isles.

Not pursuing electoral fairness and equality of the vote is known as malapportionment. There can be passive and active versions of that. There can be active malapportionment if the boundaries do not take account of equality of the vote from the day on which they were drawn. Passive malapportionment means that, over time, certain areas come to be much more underrepresented or much more overrepresented if adjustments are not made.

We use 10 per cent as a guide. We deviate significantly from that when we think that special geographic circumstances warrant it. However, the rule for Westminster constituencies is 5 per cent. When the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee was doing a review of that, it had research that said that 8 per cent would do and that there was no need to relax that to 10 per cent. A fairly common band is used across advanced industrial democracies.

Does Meghan Gallacher want to follow up on that?

No. Ailsa Henderson has covered my follow-up question.

Okay. Great.

I want to return to points that the convener has already raised about our correspondence and evidence session with Councillor Margaret Davidson. She told the committee that there was a good initial conversation between the council and Boundaries Scotland, but much of what the council relayed to the commission during the early conversations was not taken on board when the proposals were drawn up. We have already heard concerns with regard to Sutherland, Wester Ross and the Loch Ness communities. How were those concerns taken on board? What community engagement took place? How do you respond to the specific concerns that Highland Council expressed?

Ailsa Henderson can help with that, because she attended the initial meeting with the council. We probably have to focus on that in order to respond to your question.

I emphasise that we took the same approach with Highland Council that we took in the other pre-review meetings. Members have heard accounts from the other councils about how they welcomed the approach that we took; I think that they characterised it as being open. We were clear about the legislation and our methodology, but we said that we were more than willing to be flexible on the specifics of ward design and councillor numbers. We took exactly the same approach with Highland Council as we took with the other councils, and the same commission went to it. The difference is in the interaction with Highland Council.

We also said that, because we had the time to have a pre-review before we got into the formal statutory consultation, we really wanted to hear councils’ ideas but, obviously, they had to be within the bounds of what we were capable of acting on. That approach was welcomed by the others, and they took advantage of it. Members have heard examples—there are the examples of Gulberwick on Shetland and Stromness on Orkney, where our initial proposals did not find favour, but a dialogue with the council, and with others, which the council facilitated, was enough to enable us to see a different point of view and come to a different decision.

I think that that sort of thing has been largely absent from our dealings with Highland Council—indeed, that was the case right from our first meeting, which, as I have said, I did not attend. Ailsa Henderson might want to give a flavour of that and perhaps give you a different picture to the one that you got last week.

I was at the first meeting in Inverness at which we outlined what had changed, as a result of our being required—or our having the opportunity—to makes changes under the legislation. However, it was clear from that very first meeting, at which largely councillors rather than administrative officers were present, that they were annoyed with our proposals from 2017. They were quite frank in admitting that they had lobbied the minister to reject them and told us that they were annoyed that he had not done so; they also made it clear that they welcomed an enhanced role for Parliament, because it provided them with an opportunity to engage in lobbying once our proposals were out there.

It did not occur to me at the time but, in retrospect, given what has happened, it appears that their minds were made up before we had even begun. That is borne out by two things. First, we were repeatedly asked by Highland Council to do things that we are not allowed to do under the legislation. From the off, the council wanted completely different ratios in a council area. In fact, it was not just that that it wanted—it wanted a ratio that would specifically be set aside for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland and one that was designed to facilitate a minimum council size of 18. It was not a ratio put in place by virtue of the area in question being an island but a ratio deemed appropriate and necessary to end up with, as I have said, a minimum council size of 18.

Secondly, when I participated in meetings in Argyll and Bute, the council facilitated our engagement with different planning groups and community councils. Even during the pandemic, when we were all working from home, we were having online meetings with community councils in Argyll and Bute. That facilitated access just did not occur in Highland. That access was really valuable to us, because it allowed us to understand the trade-offs that people think they are working with and what side of the trade-off they come down on.

We were very consistent in our approach and followed the principles of flexibility. Moreover, the time that we were given to engage in enhanced consultation was something that we did not have when we reviewed all 32 councils at once. We really welcomed the opportunity to talk to people at a far slower pace and with far greater engagement, and we were really disappointed when that did not happen with Highland Council.

You touched on your work during the pandemic, which has impacted every organisation. We are still feeling the impacts today—indeed, you are having to give evidence remotely. Has your work been constrained by time, given the fact that the Government has asked for proposals to be introduced before next year’s council elections? Has the pandemic impacted on your ability to really find out the views of communities? Have communities really been engaged in the work over the period?

That is a really good question. I genuinely do not think that our work has been constrained or impacted on. None of us would have wished this state of affairs upon ourselves, but I do not think that we have been significantly impeded. We have still been able to do some of the more difficult things that Ailsa Henderson touched on such as community consultation through the medium that I am speaking to you on; indeed, that had some benefits with which we are becoming all too familiar with. I therefore cannot honestly say that it has made a major difference.

As it happens, the period of the reviews straddles the period before and during Covid. We all look back fondly to those earlier meetings when we were able to get round a table with people in areas such as Shetland, but our work was not impeded in Argyll and Bute, which has all sorts of geographical challenges, even when you can physically attend the meetings.

When I reflect on the way in which we have been able to consult and, as Ailsa Henderson said, on councils’ willingness to go out of their way to make it possible for us to do that in these difficult circumstances, I do not think that we could have done it any better. I do not think that we lost an awful lot and, where we lost anything, it was because it was not possible for us to find a way of getting round the digital table with communities or community councils in the greater Highland area.

I am a Highlands and Islands MSP and we are talking about five of the local authorities in that region. One of the big issues that people raise with me all the time is repopulation and repeopling. There is a concern about the idea of changing the boundaries. I know that you have flexible restrictions on the criteria that you had to work with, which is what you have been talking about. However, what will happen if we start to move the representation in Highland towards Inverness and pull it away from the areas that we are desperately trying to repopulate and where we are trying to get more people to live? What are your thoughts on that, if you can give them?

Yes, I think we can. It is important to get perspective on that. The net result of our recommendations on councillor numbers for Highland Council is that they would reduce by one. I struggle to regard it as a significant impact on effective and convenient local government to go from 74 to 73 councillors. However, your question is more about the distribution within the area. In the four most northern wards, the net effect would be a reduction of one in the current number of councillors. By contrast, in the greater Inverness area, the net effect would be an addition of one. Those numbers do not look excessive to me. Change is inherent in the idea of a review, but that is hardly a dramatic change.

We have to seek to place representation where the population and the electorate are. There is no way that you can put councils in an area where there is no electorate and expect that the electorate will somehow follow them. It will not work like that; it is the other way round. In fact, all four of the areas to the north are overrepresented compared with the rest of Highland. We are cognisant of the importance of ensuring that there is no problem with representation in highly rural areas such as that and other parts of Highland.

I use that as an example to demonstrate that it is not about the councillor numbers, but about the proportions measured against parity. Against parity, there is significant overrepresentation and there still would be under our proposals for that part of the council area. We think that that is perfectly right.

Thank you for that, Ronnie. We have given a lot of attention to Highland; I will give a little bit more attention to Argyll and Bute. You have probably already touched on this issue but I will ask the question. I believe that one of the proposed wards for Argyll and Bute Council is Mull, Coll and Tiree. The proposal is for a three-member ward, and because there is a larger population on Mull, all the councillors might end up being from there. However, there is no direct ferry service—there is no way to get to Coll and Tiree directly—so people would have to go through Oban to get back out to those islands. There is concern about that. I think that there was something in the criteria about a link within the wards.

We are very aware of that issue, too. The status quo is a mainland-island ward. That hybrid arrangement respects connectivity. However, considering what we were empowered to do under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, it would have been remiss of us not even to have considered the possibility of grouping islands together separately from the mainland. That seems to us to be part of the main policy thrust of the legislation. In doing that, we have to weigh in the scales that set of considerations against the physical connectivity argument. It is not an easy judgment to make.

On balance, we took the view that having a dedicated ward for island communities to try to recognise the identity in that grouping of islands and the one further to the south in Argyll and Bute was in keeping with the spirit of the legislation. Although there were views on either side in the responses to the consultation, by and large, people were in favour of trying to do that. The connectivity argument matters but it did not seem to be a be-all and end-all for a significant number of the people who responded to us. That is one thing that we would want to keep an eye on and on which we would liaise with Argyll and Bute Council to see whether it made a significant difference.

12:00  

At last week’s meeting, we heard that there is an historical identification with that connectivity: people come from the islands and connect to Oban. They like that. It is interesting that that did not come up when you sought views on the matter.

If the Parliament were to reject one or more of the regulations, what would Boundaries Scotland do next?

It is not entirely clear what we could do. It is clear what we could not do, because there would not be time to carry out a full review of a whole council area ahead of the elections that are scheduled for next year. That would mean that a given area would go into those elections with the current form of representation that they got through the previous reviews. For some, that might not be such a difficulty—that would not change anything at all for Orkney, for example. However, the proposed changes are significant in Highland in particular, as well as in Argyll and Bute. The levels of disparity in those areas do not serve the electorate well and it would be a mistake to allow that to prevail for the coming elections.

The main point is that we could not do anything in advance of the elections. That would be the price of rejecting the regulations. What happens after that would be new ground for all of us. We are not entirely sure about that, but the commission stands ready to act on instructions from ministers and, ultimately, the Parliament about what has to happen following the reviews that we have just completed.

That is the end of our questions. We very much appreciate you coming along, sharing the work that you have been doing and getting us excited about methodology. Thank you so much for being with us.

We will take the next two items in private.

12:02 Meeting continued in private until 12:49.