A new poll for the John Smith Centre has revealed that a majority of people in the UK want remote debates and votes to continue in parliament after Covid restrictions are lifted.
The findings have led to calls for a permanent end to the process which sees every MP waste hours in the voting lobbies ‘packed together like sardines’.
Centre Director Kezia Dugdale also said it should not be considered normal to demand that parliamentarians, including members of both the UK and Scottish parliaments, must travel hundreds of miles for every vote.
The poll by Message House of 2,099 people across the UK found that 51% believe MPs should continue to be able to debate and vote remotely after restrictions are lifted, with only 35% believing MPs should be required to be in Parliament to take part.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those polled thought that remote voting and debating would help MPs in rural areas or areas a long way from Westminster get more done.
And 61% believed that more women and people with caring responsibilities would be encouraged to stand for parliament as a consequence.
However, when asked whether remote voting would mean MPs might be less effective at holding the government to account, the public was largely unsure.
There is a desire to ensure that this new way of working does not lead to a loss of quality of debate or parliamentary scrutiny – ‘something that will need to be carefully thought through’, says Kezia Dugdale.
The John Smith Centre exists to make the positive case for politics and public service. Using research, advocacy and development programmes, we also seek to pull down the barriers people face accessing public life.
Kezia Dugdale said:
“As much as we all crave ‘going back to normal’, we should be asking ourselves and our leaders if that idea of ‘normal’ was really good enough.
“Because it’s not really normal to line up in the ‘aye’ and ‘no’ lobbies of Westminster to cast a vote with your whole body. Hours wasted passing legislation packed together like sardines.
“Neither is it normal to demand MSPs travel from Stranraer and Stromness to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to electronically cast a tight budget vote that we now know could be easily done from a distance.
“This new polling shows a desire to keep the new way of working that was brought in as a result of Covid restrictions, particularly if it aids rural representation and increases the chances of parliamentarians looking like the country they seek to represent.
“There’s much work to be done to enhance the effectiveness of parliament’s scrutiny functions, but after the year of innovation we’ve had, making the impossible possible, it’s surely within reach.”
Read Kezia Dugdale’s The Times Red Box article on the polling data here.