A landmark building earmarked for conversion to a luxury hotel should instead become the home of a Scottish Senate, according to a Labour peer.
Former MSP George Foulkes will today argue in the House of Lords that the Scottish Parliament needs a second chamber to provide checks on SNP power and that the former Royal High School on Calton Hill is the “ideal” building for the purpose.
The building was converted to house the Scottish Assembly in 1979 if devolution had been given the go-ahead but was ruled out as the base for the new Scottish Parliament in 1999 by the Scottish Secretary at the time Donald Dewar. It is now at the centre of controversy over the hotel proposal, with a rival plan put forward from St Mary’s Music School.
Lord Foulkes is proposing an amendment to the Scotland Bill which would see the creation of a 46-member Senate as Scotland’s equivalent to the House of Lords.
It would be elected by Single Transferable Vote, at the same time as MSPs, from across each region of Scotland and would have the power to scrutinise and revise legislation and set up committees which could call ministers to give evidence.
He said the House of Lords had proved the value of a second chamber by telling the government to “think again” on issues such as cuts to grants for onshore wind farms, votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in the EU referendum and tax credit cuts.
“In Scotland we only have the one chamber. Donald Dewar and the people around him thought it would not matter because they had devised voting system where one party would never get an overall majority.
“But that has proved not to be the case and now we have effectively a one-party state. The SNP has a majority on the committees and they don’t challenge the executive in the way expected.
“The time is right to consider a revising chamber for Holyrood. The present parliament would still be the main chamber like the House of Commons, but the Senate would have the power to ask them to think again.”
He said he was keen to keep the costs involve to a minimum.
“That’s why I made it a modest size – 46. And I don’t think they would need to be full-time. And I thought if you could find an existing place where they could meet, it would mean you don’t need a new building.
“The ideal building is the old Royal High School – it was used for Scottish Grand Committee meetings, which worked very well, and of course it was intended to house the Scottish Parliament until Donald Dewar thought differently.
“If you were asked to look for a building in Edinburgh that looked like a parliament, this is the building. It would be a much better use for it than a luxury hotel or even a music school.”
He said it would cost “very little” to convert to a Senate because so much work had already been done.