Leader comment: Holyrood overhaul long overdue

Reform of the working practices of the Scottish Parliament is long overdue.
Reform of the working practices of the Scottish Parliament is long overdue.
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The vast majority of the proposed reforms to the way the Scottish Parliament works are eminently sensible.

If implemented, they will not only make Holyrood a far more efficient centre of power, it will allay many public misgivings about its role.

What is most welcome in John McCormick’s comprehensive review is his call for an overhaul of the committee system, with smaller and stronger groups led by conveners elected by the Parliament. The change, Mr McCormick believes, will equip committees to set the political agenda, rather than “simply respond” to the Government.

It is a move which has been a long time coming. There is a consensus across the political spectrum that Holyrood’s committees have achieved little of any worth, primarily because they are dominated by party appointees. The former presiding officer, Tricia Marwick, proposed a system of elected conveners years ago, but the idea was rejected the standards committee, then dominated by the SNP.

One of the long-standing ironies of Holyrood’s inception is it was designed to safeguard against repeating the mistakes of Westminster. Yet Westminster’s committees elect their own chairs, providing a robust bulwark against government. It would be in no-one’s interests if Holyrood fails to make amends this time.

The same common sense streak runs throughout the 108-page Commission on Parliamentary Reform report. Among its 75 recommendations is a recalibration of First Minister’s Questions, granting the Presiding Officer greater power to rule out questions “which do other than seek to genuinely scrutinise the minister”.

Regular observers of FMQs will well know the sort of patsy questions Mr McCormick has in mind. The proposal to ensure the weekly session is a time for scrutiny is to be warmly welcomed. At present, there is a lot of heat, yet very little light; Holyrood’s flagship political fixture can, and must, do better.

With MSPs taking on significant new powers, there will no doubt be some who have misgivings about their ability to meet Mr McCormick’s demands. But the overriding theme of his report is a call for the parliament to work more productively.

It is a challenge our elected representatives should savour, not fear. A review of the way our Parliament works is healthy. Let us hope that it becomes a regular occurrence.