Scottish Parliament needs to be reformed to curb power of the SNP government and the Queen – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP
In comparative terms, the Scottish Parliament is still in its infancy. But as we begin to understand more about how Holyrood works in practice, there are some emerging arguments for reform.
Take the issue about Queen’s Consent. A Scottish Liberal Democrat investigation made international news last month, when it revealed that the Queen’s lawyers are allowed to vet legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament through an archaic process known as Queen’s Consent.
This research found evidence of the Scottish government being coaxed into making changes to a green energy Bill passed earlier this year, after the Queen’s lawyers raised their concerns about the impact on royal land.
Worryingly, other interventions may have been made by the Crown in as many as 67 Acts of the Scottish Parliament. That does not sit comfortably.
Donald Dewar said that devolution should be a process not an event. By that he meant that devolution must adapt and change with the times.
When flaws and imperfections are identified, then reform should follow. As a liberal and as a democrat, for me that should certainly happen with an urgent review of Queen's Consent in our legislative process. But that is by no means the only thing we should look to update.
We can start by looking south. Westminster is without question in need of reform itself, but there are aspects of that parliamentary system that I think we could benefit from at Holyrood.
In the skirmishes around Brexit, the Conservative government openly defied the expressed will of Parliament. They were found in contempt by the House of Commons, and had to change tack.
When the minority SNP government loses votes, it regularly ignores them. As such, the chamber at Holyrood needs similar powers to exert its authority over the Scottish government.
Then there is the power of recall. Since the Recall of MPs Act was passed in 2015, two MPs have already faced by-elections that have been triggered by a recall petition following criminal behaviour.
No such provision yet exists in Scotland and, as such, constituents are deprived of their right to oust an unsuitable MSP. I have yet to meet anyone who can explain to me why this would be a bad idea.
Finally, there is the structure of the Parliament itself. In 2011, the SNP’s overall majority allowed government policy to sail through the committee structure – that was meant to scrutinise and revise it – without amendment.
The founders of devolution assumed that with a proportional electoral system, governments would be formed by coalitions or by a minority administration bound to seek consensus and that, with a single house of parliament, would do. That assumption was wrong.
At the age of 23, our parliament has achieved many things, but it is now in real need of an MoT.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western