Sunday, May 5, 2013

How do regional MPs manage to serve large regions?

The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system lets you elect regional MPs competing with your local MP to represent you. One question often asked is “how do regional MPs manage to serve large regions?”

Let’s see how this works in Scotland. After the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, their first government (elected by MMP) was a stable coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats. It lasted two terms, with a Scottish National Party opposition. In 2011 the Scottish National Party won a majority government. Today it has a minority government supported by the Green Party. In Canada, this system as recommended by the Law Commission of Canada would give us a Parliament reflecting our political diversity in each province. For the reasons well explained by St├ęphane Dion, this would let the whole spectrum of parties, from Greens to Conservatives, embrace all the regions of Canada.

In the 2011 election, in Scotland’s semi-rural South Scotland region, Scottish National Party (SNP) voters elected a total of eight Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Labour voters elected four MSPs, Conservatives three, and Liberal Democrats one. When the nine local seats went four SNP, three Conservative, and two Labour, that left the seven top-up regional MSPs as four SNP, two Labour, and one Liberal Democrat. (Green voters elected a South Scotland MSP in 2003 but not since.)

The two regional Labour MSPs were Claudia Beamish and Graeme Pearson, both newly elected in 2011. For the seven local seats not won by Labour, Claudia Beamish covered the southeast portion where she lived and was a teacher in a rural school, while Graeme Pearson covered the northwest portion south of Glasgow where his roots are. Splitting the region this way is the usual practice.

Since the Scottish National Party won four local ridings in South Scotland, its four regional MSPs had only the other five local ridings to cover. Charles "Chic" Brodie was also the local SNP candidate in Ayr where he lived, and served it as a “shadow” local MSP, just as all German list MPs do. Paul Wheelhouse was also the local SNP candidate in Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire where he lived, and served it. Joan McAlpine and Aileen McLeod shared constituency offices in Dumfries, where they covered two ridings: Dumfriesshire, and Galloway and West Dumfries. That left the Edinburgh suburb of East Lothian, where the SNP lost one riding by only 151 votes and won the other one.

Jim Hume, Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland since 2007, used to be Chairman of Lothians and Borders National Farmers Union, and is used to covering the whole region.

At the other end of Scotland is its largest region, geographically: Highlands and Islands. It’s a stronghold of the Scottish National Party. Voters for Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives each elected only two MSPs out of the 15 in that region. Since Liberal Democrat voters elected two of the eight local MSPs, they were not entitled to elect any regional MSPs. So the regional MSPs included two Labour and two Conservatives. (Again the Greens elected an MSP in 2003 but not since.)

The eight-riding region ranges from Inverness in the centre to Moray in the east, Argyll and Bute in the south, the Western Isles to the west and the Shetland Isles to the north.

Mary Scanlon had been a Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament from 1999 to 2006 and since 2007. Her constituency office was in Inverness in the centre of the region, and she had run before in that area. She held local office hours on Fridays or Mondays, and during their week’s break each month, which rotated through 13 locations around the region serving five of the eight local ridings. Jamie McGrigor had been a Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament since 1999. He previously ran locally in Argyll and Bute, and has his constituency office there. He covered the southwest three ridings.

Rhoda Grant had been a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament from 1999 to 2003 and since 2007, re-elected in 2011. David Stewart had been a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament since 2007, re-elected in 2011.  They shared a constituency office in Inverness, in the centre of the region. They both had their political base in Inverness, where each has run for a local seat. Unlike most regional MSPs, they did not divide the region between them for constituency service purposes. Instead, they specialized: Rhoda Grant in Energy, Enterprise &Tourism, Health, Finance and Infrastructure, David Stewart in Education, Justice and Transport. Like all regional MSPs they held local office hours in each of the seven outlying ridings throughout the year.
Wales does the same, with five regions each electing eight local AMs and four regional AMs. Canada could do that too.

Update: after the 2016 election, the typical Regional MP serves three local ridings.

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