Speaker: Kristina Lemon from the Swedish Elections Authority
Chair: Lesley Riddoch, broadcaster & writer
Host : Alex Rowley MSP
Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh
The recent UK General Election had a 'high' turnout of 66%. The last General Election in Sweden produced no single party with a working majority - Swedes have used PR since 1909 and coalition government is normal. So is last year’s turnout of 85.8% – higher even than Scotland’s record breaking referendum. The turnout for the last council elections was 38% in Scotland but 82% in Sweden.
How do the Swedes do it? Elections are on a Sunday. All elections (for municipal and county councils and general elections) take place on the same day -- the second Sunday of September every four years. So councils benefit from the General Election buzz. Voters can vote 18 days before polling day, and change their vote on election-day itself. Anyone can form a party, even quite late in the process. Voters don’t have to register – the Swedish Election Authority simply extracts information from the central population register.
The Swedish system aims to give parties a number of seats proportional to its support among voters. Even TV and radio coverage is different – debates with 7 party leaders are entirely unremarkable. It’s all scrupulously fair – what do you expect from the first country in the world to introduce freedom of the press, in 1766?
Could Scottish democracy learn from a system like this? Kristina Lemon of the Swedish Election Authority brilliantly described how the Swedish electoral system works. She spoke to the capacity audience about the details of the Swedish electoral system and took questions within her 80 minute presentation. You can download her slides below and listen to the presentation on the Nordic Horizons Soundcloud channel.
Norway has 428 kommuner (councils) The average size of a kommune is just 12,000 people. In Scotland the average council serves a whopping 178,000 people. How do these tiny Norwegian kommuner function and avoid bureaucracy and uneven standards? Whatever the answer it seems they are doing something right. Turnout at elections is 64% - almost twice that of Scotland. And 1 in 81 Norwegians stands in council elections compared to 1 in 2071 Scots.
The new Norwegian Government has proposed mergers which would bring the average kommune size closer to 15 or 20 thousand people. Even this modest increase in size is causing local opposition. So is small still beautiful in Norway?
Professor John Bryden is a Scot who currently lives near Oslo. He is Research Professor at the Norwegian Agricultural Economics Research Institute and Professor of Human Geography Emeritus at Aberdeen University. He is the lead editor of a new book comparing the modern history of Scotland and Norway, Northern Neighbours, by Edinburgh University Press.
You can download John Bryden's presentation notes below.