Inside politics: Scotland’s need for more sophisticated legislative structure is an issue that will have to wait
THE Scottish Parliament has a habit of throwing up the unexpected. Who, in the Donald Dewar era, could have predicted that the SNP would win an election and be able to successfully run a minority government as Alex Salmond did between 2007 and 2011?
Similarly, at the outset of devolution, even the most far-fetched crystal-ball gazers could have hardly foreseen subsequent events that saw Holyrood being completely overrun by one party and that party being the SNP.
The astonishing scale of the SNP’s election victory and the collapse of their opponents means that Alex Salmond’s party has the run of an institution, which was simply not designed to cope with single-party domination.
So perhaps it is not surprising that there are murmurings that the parliament is not scrutinising legislation effectively.
The sheer weight of numbers enjoyed by the SNP at Holyrood means that they are the largest party on almost all the committees.
That, in turn, has led to concern that MSPs simply vote along party lines in committee – an approach which might suit the bidable SNP benches, but does not make for effective and dispassionate scrutiny of legislation.
Also, Labour MSPs have been objecting to amount of committee business that is being held in private at the behest of the SNP.
But there are also some senior SNP politicians who, in private, recognise that domination by a single party does not make for the best legislation.
So what is the solution? One suggestion being bandied about in casual conversation is the creation of a second chamber.
Such an idea is not new. Dewar himself dismissed suggestions that Holyrood should have a “House of Lairds”.
Later, however, Lord Steel of Aikwood suggested that Holyrood needed a revising chamber shortly before he stood down as Presiding Officer.
He believed that the parliament was producing poor legislation and his view was that committees were failing to provide an adequate check on the activities of the chamber.
Evidence, it would seem, that the complexion of the parliament may have changed beyond prediction, but some things remain the same.
These days speculation about who would sit in a Scottish Senate and how it would work is the subject of informal discussion around Holyrood.
But underneath this idle chit-chat is the recognition that a second chamber is a no-go, given that voters in Scotland would be extremely hostile to the idea of yet another taxpayer-financed political tier.
Just as pertinent is the observation that nothing on this subject is ever likely to get done before a certain vote in the autumn of 2014. In the meantime the people of Scotland will continue to be served by a parliament that some believe is not up to the job.
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