Parliamentary reform could ‘maximise’ benefits of Scottish devolution

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Reforming the Scottish Parliament may help to ‘improve’ devolution, according to a University of Stirling academic.

Paul Cairney, Professor of Politics and Public Policy at Stirling, spoke as the Commission on Parliamentary Reform published more than 70 recommendations, designed to improve how the Scottish Parliament operates.

Professor Paul Cairney

Professor Paul Cairney was an adviser to the Commission on Parliamentary Reform.

Professor Cairney, who was an adviser to the Commission, said: “For years, I have been teaching students about 'new Scottish politics' as if it were something that happened in the distant past.


“From the late 90s, key architects of devolution had high hopes for a Scottish Parliament at the heart of the political system, helping to improve policy, represent the social background of Scotland, and become a hub for popular participation. The Commission's report should help reinvigorate those hopes.”

The Commission’s recommendations include the introduction of Parliamentary-elected committee conveners, measures to strengthen committees and the scrutiny of legislation, as well as other changes aimed at increasing ministerial accountability.

Commission Chair, John McCormick, said: “The Scottish people have been at the heart of the Parliament but more could be done to involve them in its work. That’s why we have made a series of recommendations to allow people throughout the country to engage with the Parliament how they want and where they want.”

Recommendations within the report include:

  • Smaller, stronger committees with Conveners elected by Parliament.
  • Creating more Parliamentary time by allowing committees to meet at the same time as the debating chamber.
  • Parliament working with political parties and others to agree benchmarks in terms of diversity in candidates for Scottish Parliamentary elections
  • Scrapping the requirement for party leaders’ and MSP selected questions to be published in advance of FMQs.
  • Expanding the legislative process to allow more time for pre and post-legislative scrutiny.
  • The establishment of a national Legislative Standards Body to improve the quality legislation of legislation brought to Parliament.
  • A stronger role for the Presiding Officer in ruling on conduct in the chamber.
  • Changing the way the business of in the debating chamber is decided.
  • Establishing a Committee Engagement Unit to support committees to become more innovative and risk taking in their engagement activities.

Professor Cairney said: “It now seems unlikely that there will be a second referendum any time soon. So, we have a window of opportunity to take a step back, understand the Scottish Government’s new powers, and consider how the Scottish Parliament can best hold it to account, encourage new voices in politics, and represent the views of the public.”


The Scottish Parliament enjoys strong public support and should build on its successes to make it even more effective, Professor Cairney insisted.

He added: “A big part of this shift of thinking should be about the ways in which we describe and appreciate MSPs. If elected politics should not be the part-time occupation of people with independent wealth and a larger income from other jobs, we should make sure it provides the kinds of pay and conditions that we’d take for granted in other parts of the public sector.”

Further information on the Commission and its membership can be found on its website.