Views

The Weakening of The Scottish Parliament

Since Brexit, plans to erode the powers of the Scottish Parliament have been set on course by the Johnson led UK Government. But over the last few years there has been a change in the Scottish Parliament from within. This article will explore whether MSPs have had their ability to represent us gradually limited.

Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected by a system of Proportional Representation, so whether you like it or not, it is much more reflective of the view of the electorate than Westminster with its first past the post system. There are 129 MSPs and they sit in party political groupings. There are no independent MSPs in this current Parliament. SNP – 64 MSPs; Conservatives – 31 MSPs, Labour – 22 MSPs; Scottish Greens – 7 MSPs; and Liberal Democrats – 4 MSPs. The Presiding Officer was elected as a Scottish Green but due to her role in the Parliament she loses that party status and has no party affiliation.

MSPs are elected to serve YOU, and all those in their constituency/region regardless of party politics.

The Parliament has several committees and these have the important role of scrutinising the details of Bills that come before the Parliament. The committees take evidence and discuss Bills (or petitions) which can be done with much greater vigour than in the Parliament Chamber during debates when MSPs unfortunately revert to being under the control of the political party they are members of. In committees which are all cross party, MSPs are able to question thoroughly all those with an interest in whatever issue they are exploring – including Ministers. This is all intended to produce legislation that is better informed and more representative of the views of the people of Scotland.

When a political party has a majority in the Parliament they can get legislation passed on only their votes and when that happens and if the concerns of committees are not listened to then bad legislation is a possibility. Up until now Committees in the Scottish Parliament have performed their role reasonably well.

In this current session the SNP does not have the majority it needs to push through legislation merely on their own votes. They need the support of other political parties. The Scottish Greens, with only 7 MSPs, are in a really strong position to influence legislation because their votes are needed to get Government Bills through. Which is also why going into a coalition, which isn’t a coalition but looks very like one, with the SNP, seems a very odd thing to do when you are the actual Power Brokers.

Is the SNP/Green Cooperation Agreement actually a good thing for our Scottish Parliament?

Will it mean that Government Bills which might receive less support across the Chamber and which have less support with citizens, get passed, producing poor legislation ?

Surely the Committee system might help to limit that happening.

But only if the Committee system remains strong. Is it?

And with an assured majority, the SNP Government with the Green Deal in place, don’t need to actually take on the views of committees to get Bills passed. It’s just better if they do.

This is what the Scottish Parliament website says:

Committees:

  • hold the Scottish Government to account
  • hold inquiries
  • examine bills (proposed laws) and decide on amendments (changes)
  • introduce their own bills
  • consider petitions suggested by the public

Each political party chooses which MSPs are going on the various committees and the number of spaces they get on these is related to how many seats they have in Parliament.

Let’s look at one in more detail: The Citizen and Public Petitions Committee

Members:

  • Jackson Carlaw (Con) Convener
  • David Torrance (SNP) Depute Convener
  • Bill Kidd (SNP)
  • Paul Sweeney (Lab)
  • Tess White (Con)

This committee used to be known as the Public Petitions Committee. As you can see it has added ‘Citizen’ to its title. It is the Committee that is most accessible to you and me because if we get enough support from other members of the public on a petition then this committee has to look into the issue.

The previous Petitions Committee did excellent work and for us in the islands was particularly forensic at looking at HIAL’s plans to remove air traffic controllers from our airports and to centralise the service in Inverness using remote technology.

This new committee has no MSP sitting on it from the areas affected by HIALs Remote Towers project – no one in fact from the whole of the Highlands and Islands. Ironically there is a petition to be considered by this committee to ‘Introduce Community Representation on boards of public organisations delivering lifeline services to island communities’ – Petition PE01862. Perhaps the committee will co-opt members from the Highlands and Islands when considering issues directly relevant to the massive region which accounts for over half of Scotland’s land mass?

I think we need to be very concerned at the erosion of the ability of Members of the Scottish Parliament to represent the views of citizens, not of their political parties. Perhaps you are cynical and think that this has always been the way but I sincerely believe, that despite their political affiliations, the Scottish Parliament does still contain some MSPs who strive to fairly fight for all their constituents and not just the people who voted for them.

If we assume that MSPs still exist who represent all their constituents the big question is – can they still do this with an arrangement that ensures the policies of the SNP/Green deal get passed as Bills?

The SNP/Green Shared Policy Document presents us with a set of future Bills to be set before the Parliament – as if there was a majority Government in power. But the People of Scotland did not vote for a majority Government to be in power. The SNP/Greens certainly both put forward a Scottish Independence Referendum as a manifesto pledge in the election but there were also many differences. The people who voted Green and the people who voted SNP did so on the commitments made in their respective manifestos.

Members of the SNP and the Scottish Greens have been voting on whether or not to accept the Deal that has been negotiated between the leadership of the two parties. The electorate don’t get a say in this. If this deal is accepted a few thousand people will have determined the Government Bills which will be put through Parliament. Those Bills will in turn become legislation – despite what any cross party committee might say – because they already have the majority support they need to get passed.

Something to ponder. It’s not just the Johnson Tory Government that is weakening the powers of citizens to have a Scottish Parliament representative of all the People.

And here’s the Policy document that the SNP/Green Deal, if accepted by their members, will put these Bills before Parliament and which will therefore be passed by a coalition that’s not a coalition.

Fiona Grahame

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