Harper tipped to be Presiding Officer

GREEN MSP Robin Harper has emerged as a hot favourite to be the Scottish Parliament's next Presiding Officer, according to insiders.

Senior sources at Holyrood believe the likelihood of a closely fought election in May will mean that none of the main parties will be willing to 'waste' a hard-won seat to fill the politically neutral role of chairing Holyrood debates.

The current Presiding Officer, Sir George Reid, of the Scottish National Party, is standing down in May, meaning it will be seen as another party's 'turn' for the post.

The first Presiding Officer was Liberal Democrat Sir David Steel, making it unlikely a Lib Dem will get the job.

Although Labour is the largest party at Holyrood, party insiders have said it is "dead against" one of its MSPs taking on the post.

The revival of the SNP, as indicated by polling levels which show it might beat Labour in May, means the main parties are unlikely to want to give up a single seat.

Presiding Officers are barred from voting or speaking in the chamber, and a close-run contest would mean that losing an MSP's vote might be crucial.

A senior Holyrood source said: "Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems won't want it. There will be suspicion about a Tory. That leaves a Green as a possibility.

"Robin Harper has been in parliament since 1999 and is widely liked. People think he's pretty fair and has now got a lot of experience. It would show that we're an inclusive parliament and that there's a place for smaller parties."

Harper said:

"No one has talked to me about this, but... it would be an honour even to be considered.

"I think we have to get the election out of the way first - whether I am even an MSP after the election is a matter for the voters."

In addition to the Presiding Officer, Holyrood has two deputy presiding officers, who are each free to take part in debates and votes when the senior Presiding Officer is present.