Time to end ‘jobs for life’ MSPs, says Lord McConnell

Lord McConnell says "radical change" is needed at Holyrood. Picture: Julie Bull
Lord McConnell says "radical change" is needed at Holyrood. Picture: Julie Bull
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The Scottish Parliament needs radical change to end the "jobs for life" culture among many MSPs which has left the system "out of touch" with voters, according to former First Minister Lord McConnell.

Holyrood has become "non-challenging" towards the Government, the peer warned, making it "too easy to hide" for ministers in the near-two decades since devolution.

The former Labour leader called for "term limits" for MSPs on the additional member "list" system and suggested candidates could be forced to choose between standing as list or constituency MSPs. Currently many who lose out in the first-past-the-post vote, still secure election by "falling back " on the list.

The peer, who as Jack McConnell was Labour First Minister from 2001 to 2007, was appearing before a commission set up to look at improvements in the way Holyrood currently operates.

"There's a problem across both the developed and the developing democracies in the world where politicians are getting out of touch - or have got out of touch with ordinary people," Lord McConnell said.

"Voters feel distant from politicians and it's partly because they feel there are too many professional politicians and not enough representatives of peoples' ordinary, everyday lives.

"Systems can help correct that and I think anything that helped this Parliament avoid being full of politicians who almost had a job for life would be a good thing."

He warned that too many MSPs are putting loyalty to their party ahead of their constituents, warning that the list system has contributed to this.

Holyrood's committees must find their teeth, similar to the regime Westminster, with the former Labour leader calling for committee chairs to be elected by backbenchers, instead of being appointed by party whips.

The Scottish Parliament sought to adopt a "less adversarial" system than Westminster when it emerged in 1999 but Lord McConnell suggested this has backfired.

"To move away from adversarial and become almost non-challenging, to make it too easy to hide, I think is not right thing either," he said

The Government question time format in Scotland has because of the focus on groups of ministers, rather than on individual ministers.

"It doesn't work," he said.

"Not one minister has ever had to resign following a bad performance at a ministerial question time in 18 years - probably the only Parliament in the work where that's the case. The question times have to become more challenging."