Lack of scrutiny feared as SNP hogs top jobs

SEVERAL former SNP ministers are among the nine Nationalists elected as conveners of the Scottish Parliament's committees following a vote of MSPs.

The SNP now holds nine of the 14 committees, including the key posts of finance, justice, infrastructure and education, with Labour and the Conservatives holding four and one respectively.

However, the SNP's dominance of Holyrood's committee system sparked a warning from a senior MSP that Alex Salmond's party would use the positions to "undermine" the structure, which he said should be used to "revise" legislation.

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Former schools minister Maureen Watt was given the position of convener of the infrastructure and capital investment committee, while one-time housing minister Stewart Maxwell was elected as the education and culture committee convener.

There were also roles for MSPs seen as arch party loyalists during the last parliament, such as Kenneth Gibson and Christina McKelvie, who were elected as finance and Europe committee conveners respectively.

Another loyal SNP backbencher elected yesterday was Joe FitzPatrick, who will head the local government and regeneration committee.

The maverick SNP MSP Christine Grahame was elected as the justice committee convener in the election, which followed talks between the main parties at Holyrood.

Labour MSP Hugh Henry was elected as public audit committee convener, while David Stewart took public petitions for the party. The newly elected Labour MSP Claudia Beamish was elected as convener of the equal opportunities committee.

Labour MSP Duncan McNeil was elected as the health committee convener. The appointment came just a day after Labour's Malcolm Chisholm quit as shadow education secretary, amid claims he was blocked by party leader Iain Gray from standing for the health convener's role.

The only committee with a Tory as the convener after yesterday's election is economy, energy and tourism, which will be led by Gavin Brown.

However, Tory MSP Alex Johnstone called on all conveners "whatever their political colour" to act independently of the Scottish Government in reviewing legislation.

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He said: "The committees have always had the function of acting as a second chamber and as a revising chamber.

"Now, there's a real danger that the SNP will use its majority in the parliament, which also gives it an inbuilt majority in the committees, to undermine the committee system.

"It's absolutely essential that all committee conveners, whatever their political colour, do everything they can to uphold the committee system to ensure that the Scottish Government is held accountable and that committees revise legislation."

The minister for parliamentary business, SNP chief whip Brian Adam, said: "These appointments reflect the skills and experience of the SNP parliamentary group.

"Alongside experienced MSPs we have new members with considerable talents and experience from Westminster and local government, who will take up roles as deputy conveners.

"I am confident all SNP conveners will work with the members of their committee of all parties to hold this government to account, to improve legislation and to ensure all MSPs play a full role in making Scotland better."

Other committee convener posts taken by the SNP included rural affairs, climate change and environment, with Rob Gibson at the helm.

SNP MSP Dave Thompson was elected to chair the standards, procedures and public appointments committee, while another Nationalist, Nigel Don, will head the subordinate legislation committee.