South Ayrshire Council says it has no plans to remove voting powers for religious representatives on education matters.

Councils are legally obliged to have three religious representatives when education issues are being discussed by the local authority's cabinet.

However, councils do not have to give those religious representatives the same voting rights as elected members.

South Ayrshire Council has given voting rights to the three religious representatives, one from the Church of Scotland, one from the Roman Catholic Church and one other chosen from another religious body.

Fraser Sutherland, the chief executive of the Humanist Society Scotland, recently argued that the number of councils looking at removing voting rights  is accelerating and suggested that most of the 32 councils in Scotland could remove voting rights in the next five years.

In the four years from 2019 to 2022, just three councils decided to remove voting rights from non-elected members – Perth and Kinross, Moray and Scottish Borders.

That number has already been matched in 2023 in Orkney, Fife and Highland Councils.

The requirement for councils to appoint three religious representatives is embedded in the Local Government Scotland Act (1973).

However, the legislation does not require the representatives to be given a vote.
The significant power given to religious groups comes as the number of people identifying with a faith continues to drop.

The last census in 2011 showed just over 53 per cent Scots identified with religious groups, a drop of around 12 per cent on 2001.

It is expected that current figures would see religious affiliation drop below half.

South Ayrshire Council said that there were no plans to alter the current situation.

They also have a parent, teacher and pupil representative on the cabinet during discussions about education but, unlike neighbouring East Ayrshire, do not grant them voting rights.

A South Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “There has been no request to alter these arrangements.”

Megan Manson, head of campaigns at the National Secular Society, said: “Religious appointees on councils are undemocratic, unrepresentative and unjustified.

“No one should be granted a privileged place in local democracy just because of their religion.

“If Scotland is to be a country where all citizens irrespective of background have an equal chance to participate in decision making, it can’t give one select group a privileged role.”