dj mspDaniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh Southern and a member of the Standards and Procedures Committee in the Scottish Parliament, says parliamentary committees need to scrutinise the actions of the SNP government, not rubber-stamp them. 


It is a special experience and privilege to be elected as an MSP. The Scottish Parliament rightly prides itself on having broken the mould of traditional politics. Our political process has allowed for better representation for minority groups while keeping the people of Scotland at the heart of our decision making.

The Scottish Parliament, both in architecture and democratic structure, was built around the ideas of transparency, and bringing decisions closer to the people. In many respects the Parliament has delivered, passing responsive legislation. A ban on smoking in public areas, for example, was passed in Scotland before a similar ban was introduced elsewhere in the UK.

In other areas the Parliament has been a driver for a more outward-looking Scotland, evidenced by the introduction of free care for the elderly, and winning the opportunity to hold the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

But it isn’t just what the Scottish Parliament decides to do, but how these decisions are taken, that is important. It has become a Scottish political cliché to talk of our ‘strong committee system’, and that is exactly how our Parliament was designed. Without a second chamber like the House of Lords or a Senate, or separate select and legislative committees, the Parliament’s committees are central to balancing the power between government and Parliament. It is therefore vital that those committees have a clear separation from the government they hold to account.

That’s why I was disappointed to learn of the decision made by the SNP to appoint Parliamentary Liaison Officers (junior MSPs in a ministerial team) to Holyrood committees which relate to their own portfolio areas. The idea that PLOs will be able to scrutinise legislation impartially or hold their seniors to account does not stand up. It is broadly agreed that appointing a minister to one of these committees isn’t right, and I fail to understand how appointing someone who is effectively one of their staff is any different. Regardless of which party is in power, the process of improving our democracy must continue, and this represents a step backwards.

The SNP government of the last Parliament used their majority in a muscular way. Committees with SNP majorities were whipped, undermining both the committee as a whole and the independence of its membership. The result was poor scrutiny of government and, worse still, poor drafting of legislation, including the Police Scotland merger, the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act and the Named Person legislation.

During the 2016 election the SNP ran on a platform of listening to the opinions of the Scottish people. Once they lost their majority, they promised to find common ground with other parties and to be open and inclusive. We should hold them to that standard.

I believe three things should happen to resolve this problem. Firstly, Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers should think again about the SNP’s appointment of PLOs on to committees. Secondly, Parliament should alter its rules to make sure that this can’t happen again. Thirdly, and more long term, the Parliament must strive to improve our democracy alongside the improved devolution we now have, ensuring our committees and systems are equipped to scrutinise a more powerful government.

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14 thoughts on “Powerful government needs proper scrutiny

  1. Apart from the fact that the SNP is the most scrutinised political party on the planet there is also the fact that the SNP is the most scrutinised political party on the planet. It would be impossible to put them under more scrutiny.
    Its the likes of the Pro Union Blue Tories Red Tories and Orange Tories who get a free pass from scrutiny to the point of absolute media blackout when they do something criminal.

    Another pointless piece of meaningless pish posted by another member of the Edinburgh South Red Tory Mafia in Scotland.

  2. Alan Thatcher Roden has arrived to scrutinise the SNP on behalf of the moving to the left Labour party in Scotland. I may actually have to make a Doctors appointment after my laughing fit.

    1. Any truth in the story that he got a reference from MacTernan? We can but hope.

  3. At first I hoped this may be a genuine attempt to show a positive view on improving our government system, then I read the 6th paragraph and guess what ? its SNPBAD.

    Then the man has the cheek to say the SNP are renegading on trying to find some common ground with other political parties. His own party has made it a party policy to reject anything the SNP has a part in, and this has been going on since the SNP came into government in 2007.

    I would like to say practice what you preach first, but I reckon the voting public has already done that for you, that’s why the SNP has more than double the number of MSP’s than you have.

    As for holding people to their standards, theirs a list on this site, is your name on it ?

  4. Surely committees that are there to scrutinise proposed legislation should be free of All political ties. That must include those on opposition benches not just government.
    It appears to me Holywood needs more members to allow a committee system independent of Party bias to flourish.
    There are 59 MP’s in a Parliament whose legislative program is largely irrelevant to Scotland(though hugely influential in finance etc). When Scotland becomes self governing, their numbers would be helpful at Holywood!

  5. I entirely agree that powerful governments need proper scrutiny. Particularly in, let’s see – defence, foreign affairs, finance, trade, nuclear, broadcasting, domestic surveillance…

    What’s that? Oh, the Scottish Government has powers over none of those? Well, then. Perhaps we should at least ALSO scrutinise those who do?

    It’s truly amazing how little the articles on here mention the Tories. As of this comment, of the latest seven opinion articles on LabourHame, four attack the SNP in some way. One attempts to defend Labour infamously voting with the Tories on the Welfare Reform bill. The only other visible article mentioning the Tories is the “Brexit Action Plan” and that article goes on to say ‘Labour supports exploring all options to keep Scotland in the EU and the UK but said the SNP must not take their eye off the day job – protecting jobs and the economy from the immediate impact of Brexit.’

    Truly amazing.

    1. Alan,
      Labour Hame has become a bit of a drag these days. Give it until 24 September. It will be worth the wait.

    2. You forgot to mention the economy. The economy is a reserved matter, though you wouldn’t think so to hear unionists go on about everything being the Scottish govt’s fault.

  6. Interesting that the SNP have now agreed to what Daniel was suggesting!
    Richard, if you’re bored, why not post on SNP sites instead of constantly sniping at Scottish Labour, which you obviously abhor?

    1. The only thing is Dave that the SNP position change will be seen by the electorate as them taking advice and comment on board, being willing to react to that in a reasonable and conciliatory manner so that the next time Scottish (sic) Labour abstain or just shout “SNP bad!” (as they most certainly will) for the usual effect it makes SLab look even more feckless and stupid than they are. I reckon you’ve been baited, hooked and reeled in on this one Slab.

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