Report proposes sweeping reforms of Scottish Parliament

An independent panel has proposed sweeping reform of the Scottish Parliament but stopped short of recommending a second chamber or an increase in the number of MSPs.

A report has proposed sweeping reforms of the Scottish Parliament to improve the effectiveness. Picture; Lisa Ferguson

The Commission on Parliamentary Reform said while Holyrood was generally well-regarded, changes would result in “significant improvements” in its effectiveness and ability to act as “a more successful and stronger force for good”.

Chair John McCormick was tasked with drawing up recommendations for reform by Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh after questions were raised about how effective Parliament committees are at scrutinising Scottish Government legislation.

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It also comes at a time when MSPs are taking on new powers over income tax and welfare due to changes introduced in the 2016 Scotland Act.

Among more than 70 recommendations is a call for smaller and stronger committees led by conveners who are elected by the Parliament rather than nominated by party whips.

This approach would “emphasise the independence of committees and give conveners a mandate for pursuing their scrutiny agenda”, the commission’s final report said.

A committee engagement unit should also be set up to support committees to become more innovative and risk-taking.

Holyrood should replace the current three-stage legislative process with a five-stage process to include pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, allow committees to meet at the same time as the chamber, do away with the “pointless” scripted diary questions used by party leaders to open First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) and scrap the requirement for selected questions to be published in advance of FMQs.

Other recommendations include the parliament working with political parties and others to agree benchmarks for diversity in candidates for Scottish parliamentary elections.

The commission, which heard from more than 1,200 people including former first ministers, said the time was also right for “a wider view to be taken on what makes for good legislation” with the establishment of a legislative standards body.

Amid some calls for the number of MSPs to be increased, the report did not rule out any options but concluded “all the options to maximise the capacity of the existing Parliament must be tried before more radical proposals are considered”.

“We recognise that additional powers stretch the existing resources of the Parliament but we believe that it would not be justified to recommend a second chamber or an increase in the number of MSPs unless it can be demonstrated that the Parliament is currently working at peak efficiency,” it said.

Mr McCormick said: “The Scottish Parliament is now firmly established in Scottish life. There is no doubt, however, that there are challenges ahead.

“The political landscape of today is very different from when the Parliament was established 18 years ago.

“What we have delivered with our report is a package of reforms which will enable the Parliament to meet these challenges head-on.

“The recommendations in our report are substantial and, taken together, represent very real change in how the Parliament operates.”