Patrick Harvie: Holyrood needs greater scrutiny

Not so long ago, the need to improve parliamentary scrutiny would have been a niche interest. Thanks to the independence referendum, Scotland’s voters are more engaged than ever and they’re right to expect high levels of performance from an increasingly powerful Scottish Parliament.
Inside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Picture: Ian RutherfordInside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Inside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The idea of electing committee conveners has potential, so long as there’s still a way to prevent a party with a majority from chairing every committee. With a majority of MSPs, the government should have nothing to fear from increased opposition convenership.

The way Holyrood operates leaves a lot to be desired. With a majority government – albeit by only one seat – we have a committee system dominated by the party of government. More public scrutiny could be key to reassuring voters that ministers don’t have unfettered power.

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The Scottish Parliament as it currently stands has limited capacity, and the committee structure is part of the issue. With new areas of responsibility, we could extend the number of sitting days, increase the number of committees and introduce measures to enhance the independence of committees.

The public accounts committee at Westminster has developed a reputation for grilling slippery customers like Starbucks, Google and Amazon, whose tax affairs are an issue of huge public concern. MSPs could learn from this, but also go further and find ways to bring public voices directly together with businesses, public bodies and agencies at the heart of Scottish life. Regardless of what future devolution brings, we must return to the original aspiration that the Scottish Parliament would share power with the people.

l Patrick Harvie is co-convener of the Scottish Green Party