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Council / Requirement to appoint unelected members to education committee leaves councillors feeling uneasy

Lerwick Town Hall.

LAW requiring religious representatives to be appointed to education committees across Scottish councils without election has been criticised locally as outdated and “utterly unacceptable”.

Shetland Central member Ian Scott lambasted that anyone – religious representative or not – is appointed unelected to the democratic process.

Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask added that he felt the Scotland-wide law was outdated.

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“I really do feel this is an act of 1973 and it does need to be looked at again,” he said.

The matter was raised at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday when members were asked to appoint Church of Scotland’s local youth and children’s worker Ellen Weir – who was nominated by the organisation – to the education and families committee.

It was put forward following the resignation of Rev Tom Macintyre.

Section 124 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires that there are three church representatives appointed to the committee which advises the council on the discharge of its functions as an education authority.

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One must be a representative of the Church of Scotland and the remaining two are to be selected by the council having regard to the “comparative strength within their area of all the churches and denominational bodies having duly constituted charges or other regularly appointed places of worship there”.

The other two religious representatives on the council’s committee are Helen Rankine and Martin Tregonning.

“I’m very uncomfortable with unelected people having anything to do with our democratic process,” Ian Scott said.

He claimed that “only ourselves, Iran and Afghanistan have unelected clerics” taking part in democracy.

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Shetland South member George Smith, who chairs the education and families committee, said the council has raised the matter many times with the Scottish Government.

But he said there appears no desire at this stage from the government to change the law.

Smith said while he welcomed the comments on the subject, it bears no reflection at all to the religious representatives themselves.

The councillor said he felt members all shared reservations about the appointment of unelected members on committees.

But due to the need to follow the legislation he moved that the council appointed the new representative, which was not opposed.

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