RELIGIOUS representatives will keep their right to vote on education in Renfrewshire – despite the Scottish Government saying it is not a legal requirement. 

Humanist Society Scotland has called on the council to remove their voting rights and keep decision making on the Education and Children’s Services Policy Board to elected members. 

Fraser Sutherland, the organisation’s campaigns manager, said: “Important decisions relating to education should be done on a democratic basis – by people who can be held to account by the electorate. 

The Gazette: Cllr Iain Nicolson said there would be no change to the current policy Cllr Iain Nicolson said there would be no change to the current policy

“The current practice of some local authorities giving church representatives voting rights is completely undemocratic and unrepresentative.”

The current religious representatives on the board are Iain Keith (Church of Scotland), Jack Nellany (Roman Catholic Church) and Ravinder Singh (Renfrewshire Interfaith Group). 

Perth and Kinross Council voted to withdraw voting rights from religious representatives after a contentious vote on the closure of a school. 

Elected members had voted seven to six to keep Blairingone Primary School open but the vote swung towards closure by two religious representatives. 

However, council leader Iain Nicolson said Mr Keith, Mr Nellany and Mr Singh were “valued members” and revealed there was no intention to change the voting arrangements on education. 

He said: “There are no plans or proposals to change the current voting arrangements on Renfrewshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Policy Board.

“Our religious representatives are valued members of the board and if proposals to change their role were to be forthcoming we would consult with all stakeholders before any decision was made.”

Different views on the issue have emerged from elected members, with SNP Councillor Will Mylet urging the council to rethink its stance. 

He said: “I have always had concerns that the education board allowed non-councillors to have a vote and that these additional places were reserved solely for people representing religious organisations.

“When more and more people are not religious it didn’t sit right with me that organisations which held that viewpoint were not allowed the same rights as religious groups.

“I will be contacting the convener of education asking him to remove the voting rights of the religious representatives as soon as possible.

The Gazette: Cllr Andy Doig is in favour of the members keeping their place on the board Cllr Andy Doig is in favour of the members keeping their place on the board

“It would mean the board is now fully democratic – representing the views of the electorate rather than the unelected views of religious groups who are increasingly marginal in society.”

However, Councillor Andy Doig defended faith groups and said they have a part to play at the local authority. 

He said: “We live in a very tolerant multifaith, interfaith and no faith society. 

“Scotland has changed tremendously in the 57 years I’ve been in the world and we have had to accept that but historically Scotland has a Christian culture.

“While the majority of the population might be post Christian, a lot of our values are historically Christian such as social justice, the importance of education and the idea of the common good that people in power have responsibility to look after others. 

“The fear is will they be imposing their views? I don’t think that’s the case. 

“I would struggle to find an instance where they have imposed their views on the majority who may not share their views.”

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