Labour’s longest serving MSP says Holyrood needs ‘more teeth’

Dame Jackie Baillie has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since the first election on May 6, 1999.

Labour’s longest serving MSP says Holyrood needs ‘more teeth’ PA Media

Scottish Labour’s longest serving MSP has called for Holyrood to have “more teeth” in its dealings with the Scottish Government.

Deputy Labour leader Dame Jackie Baillie has represented the constituency of Dumbarton since the first Holyrood election 25 years ago.

But she complained that over time, she has seen a “degrading of Parliament’s role by Government”.

While the SNP has now returned to being a minority administration at Holyrood, Dame Jackie claimed that in the time of majority government there had been a “lot of disrespect shown” to the Scottish Parliament.

She told the PA news agency: “I would like to see the Presiding Officer, the Standards Committee, leading a programme of work that actually gives the Parliament more teeth.

“What we can’t do at this point, though I would love to, is change the Government.

“But we can change the Parliament.”

She said the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee at the Scottish Parliament is “looking at a piece of work about how you strengthen committees, do you elect committee conveners, to put people who will scrutinise… in a way that is the right thing for the people of Scotland, not their political party”.

She complained that the “degrading of Parliament’s role by Government” is something she “really hates”.

Dame Jackie Baillie said there has been a ‘degrading’ of the Scottish Parliament’s role over the years (Jane Barlow/PA) PA Media

She accused the Scottish Government of making policy announcements “outside of Parliament, not to Parliament”, and added: “I think there is a lot of disrespect shown by a majority Government that knows it can get every vote through, is not interested in winning the argument.”

Recalling her time on the Holyrood committee set up to investigate the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations made against former first minister Alex Salmond, she said members of the committee had had to “demand information from the Government repeatedly through the Parliament’s lawyers”.

Dame Jackie said: “Moving motions of no confidence in the chamber was the only way we could get the Government to give us limited access.

“That’s just wrong. Westminster has a more robust relationship than the Scottish Parliament has with the Scottish Government.

“We need to give the Scottish Parliament teeth. If they demand stuff, and it is legitimate to do so, they should get access to information.”

Dame Jackie also claimed the Parliament “would be a very different place” if Donald Dewar, who was Scotland’s first first minister, had not died when he did.

He died in October 2000, less than 18 months after the Scottish Parliament was established, after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

Dame Jackie, who recalled how MSPs were “a bit starry eyed” when Holyrood first met, said the death of the then Labour leader “just felt like the passing of an era”.

She added: “He was such a larger than life figure, the loss of him, it was frankly unthinkable for us and it took a while for people to regroup and find their feet again and do things that he believed in.”

However, she said that 25 years after that first election, the Scottish Parliament has become “embedded in our psyche” as a nation and “is very much part of Scotland”.

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