RSE Responds to Commission on Parliamentary Reform

The RSE says that any democratic audit of Holyrood must ensure enhanced checks and balances if the Government is to pass legislation, the Parliament is to carry out effective scrutiny, and the public is to have a meaningful say.

“To date, the Parliament has struggled to hold the Government to account,” says former Presiding Officer Sir George Reid, who chaired the RSE Committee giving evidence.

“The Presiding Officer asks what can be done to differentiate the legislature from the executive. The answer is more informed and determined scrutiny.”

The Commission invited submissions in three areas:

Engagement

The RSE says that, as one of the most accessible Parliaments in the world, Holyrood has become the focal point of Scottish life. More should be done however, to reach beyond “the usual suspects” and to move from interrogation of witnesses to deliberation with witnesses in cross-sectoral discussions.

Checks and balances

No Government has much incentive to increase the scrutiny capacity of a Parliament. Where there is no majority, Opposition parties have the opportunity to do so. The RSE identifies these measures for consideration:

  • Conveners elected by secret ballot should be encouraged to ‘Think Big’ about core strategic issues and to commission independent research.
  • In the absence of a revising chamber (for which the RSE senses no demand), all Committees should engage routinely in post-legislative scrutiny.
  • Now that the Parliament has moved from spending to raising money, significant new resources are needed to ensure proper scrutiny of the budget process.
  • Parties concentrate resources on adversarial politics and the RSE feels that more can be done to ensure longer term analysis and consensual working, by outsourcing research and cross-party discussion to bodies like the Parliament’s Futures Forum.

The identity of Parliament

The early enthusiasm for a “new democracy” at Holyrood quickly ran into the reality that politicians will be politicians.

“MSPs have a bigger role than simply cheering on their own side to the next election,” said Sir George. “Given all the uncertainties of Brexit, they have to engage in deeper and longer term policy analysis if — in Donald Dewar’s words — we Scots are to say who we are and how we carry ourselves in today’s world.”

The full RSE response can be viewed here.