Review of MSP numbers among proposed Holyrood reforms

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said change is 'essential' at the Scottish Parliament.

Review of MSP numbers among proposed Holyrood reforms PA Media

Reforms to Holyrood including reviewing the number of MSPs and ministers have been proposed by a think tank.

The report’s author, Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, said change is “essential” at the Scottish Parliament, which he said is caught in a “complex web of political polarisation and institutional stagnation”.

In the paper, published by non-partisan think tank Reform Scotland, Mr Fraser said there is an imbalance between the legislative and executive branches of power in Scotland and the quality of law-making “leaves much to be desired”.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including reviewing the number of MSPs, currently 129, with the review considering the fact that the Scottish Parliament has more powers than it did when established in 1999 and work at committee and chamber level has increased.

It also suggests the number of ministers should be regularly reviewed in proportion to the number of MSPs, with a view to introducing a cap if the number of ministers is above what the Parliament deems to be acceptable or necessary.

Fraser said: “The Scottish Parliament was once seen as a beacon of democracy but now finds itself in a complex web of political polarisation and institutional stagnation.

“Despite the various achievements throughout the Scottish Parliament’s first quarter of a century, it now stands at a crossroads, grappling with a crisis of confidence and effectiveness.

“Reform is not only desirable but essential if the institution wants to continue its promise to serve the people.

“The ambition to create a more European-style legislature which would encourage collaborative working and build consensus has not been fulfilled. Instead, Holyrood now mirrors the Westminster confrontational dynamic.

“The influence of party politics within committees has diluted their effectiveness, turning them into arenas for partisan debates and exchanges rather than a place of constructive communication and consensus-building.

“The checks and balances system in the Scottish Parliament has been seen to show multiple flaws, especially in the formation and scrutiny of legislation.

“Reforms are necessary to restore confidence in Holyrood.”

Other recommendations include replacing the current three-stage legislative process with a five-stage process to include pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny.

The paper also proposes electing, and paying a supplement to, committee conveners in order to enhance the status of the role and help separate the committees from the political parties.

It also proposes giving Parliament the power to initiate judicial inquiries and the power to compel ministers and law officers to appear before committees and in the chamber, as well as enhancing the role of the Presiding Officer.

Former Scottish first minister Lord Jack McConnell, chairman of Reform Scotland, said: “Murdo Fraser and I have our differences. My solutions to these problems would not be exactly the same as those he outlines in his pamphlet.

“But Reform Scotland is here to encourage and stimulate debate and I welcome his willingness to address these issues and begin a debate with some concrete proposals.

“This is the time for serious review of these original arrangements. Previous efforts have not gone far enough.

“I hope that this pamphlet does generate debate but also action to rebuild the Scottish Parliament into an institution that we can be proud of once again.”

The paper, titled A Blueprint For A More Effective Scottish Parliament, has been published to mark the 25th anniversary of the first sitting of the Parliament in May 1999.

It proposes reforms for implementation at the start of the next Scottish Parliament election in May 2026.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Any reform of the Scottish Parliament is for Parliament to consider.

“As we reach a milestone for devolution in Scotland, it is important to reflect on its impact and the Scottish Government will listen with interest to the debate the 25th anniversary of devolution has generated.”

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