Labour attacks Westminster boundary revisions as “gerrymandering”

52
986

By a Newsnet reporter

The Labour party has accused the Boundary Commission for Scotland of “gerrymandering” after the body announced its initial proposals for the re-drawning of the constituency map of the country.

The new Scottish boundaries follow a similar announcement for England two weeks ago and will see a reduction in the number of Westminster MPs from Scotland.  The changes were a condition of the coalition deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. 

The Conservatives claim cutting the number of Westminster MPs will make representation fairer by equalising the population represented by each parliamentarian, they also claim it will save £12 million annually.  It has been a long standing complaint amongst Conservatives that the distribution of Commons seats was biased in favour of Labour, with Labour constituencies typically being smaller than Conservative held seats.

The changes will see the number of Scottish Westminster constituencies reduced from 59 to 52.  The two island constituencies, Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Orkney and Shetland, are protected and will see no changes, however mainland consituencies will be reduced in number by 7 and will see major changes to their boundaries.  The proposals mean that seven sitting Scottish MPs will no longer remain in the House of Commons after the 2015 General Election, sparking off turf-wars within the parties as sitting MPs fight to retain their jobs.  

The cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh will each lose one MP, with Glasgow’s representation dropping from seven to six and Edinburgh’s five MPs will be reduced to four.  The Glasgow North seat currently held by Ann McKechin will disappear.  Ms McKechin will have to compete with Anas Sarwar MP in order to contest the enlarged Glasgow Central constituency which will absorb the bulk of the old Glasgow North seat.

In Renfrewshire, the seat held by Douglas Alexander will also vanish, with Paisley and Renfrewshire South being divided between two new seats.  

Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy

Changes in the Highlands could see three high-profile Liberal Democrats – Danny Alexander, former leader Charles Kennedy and party veteran Lord John Thurso – fighting it out for two seats, should all of them wish to become MPs at the next election.  According to reports in the media, there are rumours that Mr Kennedy, who quit as UK party leader in 2006, is refusing to accept offers from senior party figures of a seat in the House of Lords in order to clear the way for Danny Alexander to replace him in the new seat of Inverness and Skye.  Mr Kennedy and Mr Alexander have both declined to make any statement on the proposed boundary changes.

The changes also threaten the Conservative’s sole remaining Scottish seat.  David Mundell’s Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale constituency is planned to be cut up and redistributed amongst neighbouring constituencies.  The only new seat which appears winnable for the Conservatives is the new Galloway and Carrick constituency, however even this seat will be a marginal and there is no guarantee that Mr Mundell could retain it for his party.

Mr Mundell hinted that he may contest the plan, saying:  “My view fundamentally is, I support the process, the idea that we should have roughly equal sizes of constituencies, so that people’s votes are equal.  At the moment I want to look at the detail to see how individual wards are split up and I also think it’s important to gauge and hear what the public have to see about it.”

The six Westminster seats held by the SNP will be relatively unaffected by the proposed changes.

Margaret Curran, Labour’s new Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, decried the boundary changes as coalition “gerrymandering” despite the fact that the sole remaining Conservative seat in Scotland will be abolished, and high profile Lib-Dems will be forced to vie with one another in order to remain at Westminster.

Ms Curran said:  “This is a bad scenario for Scotland because Nick Clegg’s plan to gerrymander seats will weaken Scotland’s voice at Westminster.  The Tories and Lib Dems want to abolish seven parliamentary constituencies in Scotland – but have introduced special measures in a desperate attempt to protect the seats of some existing Lib Dem MPs.”

A spokesperson for the SNP gave a more measured response, saying:  “These are substantial proposals which we will analyse closely to ensure Scotland’s distinct local communities are not adversely affected.”

Hugh Buchanan of the Boundary Commission for Scotland said that the Commission had “worked intensively to design this set of constituencies, which we believe provide a good implementation of the rules set by parliament.  We now want to get people’s views on these proposals so we can improve them where the legislation allows us to do so.”

 

See the new boundaries here:
http://www.bcomm-scotland.gov.uk/6th_westminster/initial_proposals/constituency_maps/index.asp