george-foulkes2Rt. Hon. Lord Foulkes of Cumnock is tabling an amendment to the Scotland Bill to create an elected upper chamber for Holyrood – a Scottish Senate.


The Scotland Bill is currently in committee stage in the House of Lords. Coming in the wake of last year’s referendum, the Bill is intended to provide Scotland with a robust set of devolved powers within the United Kingdom. To this end it includes greater fiscal powers, including borrowing and income tax variation, as well as greater discretion over spending.

These powers are welcome, and highlight the historic opportunity for reform which the Scotland Bill represents. It is important that we recognise the rarity of this opportunity, and be as bold as possible with the reforms we propose.

The area I think is in critical need of addressing is Holyrood itself. As it stands, Scotland’s unicameral constitutional set up is inadequate.

Having only a single chamber drastically reduces the checks and balances needed in a mature democracy. It makes the likelihood of flawed legislation being passed much greater, because it does not provide a restraint on a majority government.

The importance of this restraint has been illustrated clearly during the past weeks in Westminster over the issue of tax credits, where the House of Lords challenged the government’s planned cuts. This was bad legislation, forced through the Commons by a Tory majority, and the Lords fulfilled their constitutional duty by forcing the Chancellor to reconsider and eventually scrap his plans.

It is this sort of check which Scotland badly needs, or else it is vulnerable to similar legislation.

That is why I am tabling an amendment to the Scotland Bill which will provide for the creation of an upper chamber at Holyrood, a Scottish Senate. This Senate will be empowered to function much as the House of Lords does in Westminster:

  1. to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny;
  2. to consider and propose amendments to legislation agreed by the Scottish Parliament for future consideration by the Scottish Parliament before it is able to receive Royal Assent;
  3. to debate and make resolutions on devolved matters;
  4. to set up committees with the power to call or require Scottish Ministers to give evidence on any devolved matter.

Crucially though, a Scottish Senate will be elected. The House of Lords does great work, but its present system of selecting peers is undemocratic and anachronistic.

A Scottish Senate, comprising of 46 Senators elected from across the regions of Scotland, will provide a democratic, legitimate and effective guarantor of good government in Scotland.

For some time now, Holyrood has suffered from an increasing lack of accountability, stemming from a lack of checks and balances built into the system, and made worse by one-party rule. The Scotland Bill represents an opportunity to insert sensible structures which will guarantee Scots a legislature which not only represents them, but also protects them from misgovernment.

Related Posts

21 thoughts on “Time for a Scottish Senate

  1. Please help me here its Saturday night where I am and reactions are not what they should be. But to summarise for my benefit , Scotland at present has a multi layered governance of 32 councils made up of, what is the number? 1200 councillors. (I think there is another tier of community councillors as well. Lets not go there because its too scary). We have 129 MSPs (elected). 59 MPs (elected). circa 900 lords (unelected). MEPs 9? I could be wrong on that.
    And now Lord George reckons we need another 46 senators.
    I can only assume Lord George is ‘thinking outside the box’ here, its a pastime I myself do on occasion enjoy partaking in, and so in the spirit of lateral thinking, can I make this suggestion; lets take all those, how shall I put this, not in work or further education and ‘elevate’ them to the House of Lords. Reasons to be cheerful part 1. Unemployment stats – well better. Part 2 – how much would we save on unemployment benefits? answer on a post card, addressed to The Director of Psychiatric Medicine, Carstairs Mental Hospital.

  2. I much prefer the system of Denmark. A similar sized population with a larger number of parliamentary representative. Therefore a lower proportion not directly in government and free to articulate opinion, and vote accordingly.
    Of course Denmark has a system based on concensus and compromise. That won’t work in Scotland until the constitutional question is settled. The body politic in Scotland is utterly poisonous between British and Scottish Nationalism.
    So it will only be as a self governing country we get mature democracy.

    1. The constitutional question was settled last year, Gavin. We had a big vote. Maybe you missed it?

      (Though on the substantive point, I broadly agree. The UK has the most distant, and smallest number of, political representatives per head of population of almost any country in Europe. What we call “local” government the Danes, the Germans and the French would be baffled by. We need to exercise our democratic muscles at a a truly local level, with properly devolved powers to the village and town level.)

      1. Scotland’s Constitutional Question was only introduced, 18Sept 2014.
        It’s NOW underway, and FAR from the ‘settled will’ of Scotland’s people.
        The question cannot be settled FOR Scotland, only BY Scotland’s People.

        Telling us it’s settled, or attempting to settle’ it in Westminster will just NOT work. Scotland is AWAKE, and not likely to go back to sleep.

        An upper Chamber is needed, however, without a New Constitution it is NOT possible, not wanted, and not workable.

        1. So what were the SNP campaigning for since the 1930s? Chopped liver? The campaign has been going for eighty years. It was settled last year.

          1. It certainly was settled last year at least for a while, but as I am sure you have noticed the support for independence is still growing and the support for pro-independence parties has rocketed.

            And when you compare that with support for your party and others of the same ilk, well saying the earse has fell out would proberly be too kind. Don’t forget the polls are going our direction not yours.

            The decision for a second chamber will be decided by a independent Scotland not by rejects from the house of lords.

          2. Clearly it wasn’t settled at all Duncan. Anymore than the issue of Irish Independence was settled in 1918.
            It will only ever be settled when its achieved.
            History tells you that.

      2. Settled last year Duncan? Then what is going through Westminster right now? The Scotland Bill is not the “settled” end game by any matter of means. The GE result in Scotland surely showed that!
        ALL polling (I’ll repeat that—ALL polling ), for a number of years has shown a substantial majority of the electorate in Scotland, want all powers excepting foreign affairs, defence and some macro economics granted to Holyrood. I personally don’t think that would ever be acceptable to either Labour or the Tories in England, any more than an English Parliament would seem to be.

        So what is the constitutional settlement? I don’t pretend to know, but it certainly isn’t the Scotland Bill, which might be lucky to see the light of day, so flawed is it.

      3. Keep kidding yourself about the ‘constitutional question’ having been answered Duncan. Whilst we’re tied into this union it will NEVER, EVER go away, no matter how often you click the heels of the ruby slippers.
        I do however, agree that an elected 2nd chamber would, in principal, be a good idea. However, a great deal of thought would be required in order to prevent either legislative paralysis or a legislative free for all.

      4. I agree entirely with Duncan’s points. The average population size of a municipality in EU is 6,000 the average size population in a Scottish Council area is 100,000. We need to revisit local democracy and decision making in Scotland. There is a fine balance needed between accountability and effectiveness. The present system I would argue is neither accountable nor effective as few people know who their councillors and do not attend any or take much interest in council meetings, and councillors have been emasculated by the present ever-centralising Scottish Government which, when it comes to councillors formulating a local budget, stands over local administrations waving their fat cheque book in an ever threatening manner.

        As for a Scottish Senate I think this is something that we need to look at very seriously. Our present Parliament was set up to be one in which there was no majority party but one of consensus where the power resided not so much in the Government but in the body of the Parliament and particularly the Committees, however, the SNP have now ensured every Committee has a majority SNP presence and as we have seen many times, most recently by the refusal of the SNP leadership to allow further committee scrutiny of Fiona Hyslop and the T-in-the-Park subsidy incident any power the Parliament has is quickly being centralised in an overbearing and uncompromising partisan leadership.

  3. “Time for a Scottish Senate” – is this a Christmas advertising campaign George is into?

    A bit like Beckham’s Haig advert and will it have a blue – well perhaps not blue bottle?

  4. There is nothing wrong with a second house in principle as long as that principle is applied through the election process.
    An unelected legislative chamber is the stamp of despotism.
    Nothing wrong with including non politicians free from any party whip either.
    Elective professionals in various fields would actually be ideal for a second chamber.
    Be nice to get real professionals in the legislative process.
    Real accountants real economists real Doctors real Engineers etc.

  5. “For some time now, Holyrood has suffered from an increasing lack of accountability,”

    Except Hollyrood is more accountable to the people of Scotland than Westminster ever was or ever will be.
    With Hollyrood the people of Scotland have a 100% representation relative to the 5% it has in Westminster.
    What a pity its legislative power and authority doesn’t match that representation and thereby fails in its true purpose.
    Such is the failure of union from Scotland’s perspective.

  6. Its funny though that while Labour controlled both Parliaments there was no desire or call for a second Scottish chamber. In fact why was the Parliament opened in 1999 without a second chamber?
    Was it because Labour believed it would always rule in Scotland and only now that it realises it doesn’t and wont again we find them looking for ways to strip the Scottish Government of its central authority?

  7. According to George ‘having a single chamber reduces the necessary checks and balances’

    So what we need up here is something on the Westminister model; any idea on how many amendments on the Scottish Bill were suggested and duly ignored?

      1. “Erm, this is an amendment on the Scotland Bill.”

        from an unelected peer…..

        menwhile the elected representatives from Scotland had amendment after amendment ignored….

        funny…if the “second chamber is unelected then it is a useless add on for retired politicians….
        If it elected…what makes you think its make up would be significantly different form the Scottish parliament and therefore redundant

        1. “meanwhile the elected representatives from Scotland had amendment after amendment ignored”

          Is that really a fair assessment of what has happened with the Scotland Bill?

          Here is the detail of all amendments thus far:

          Many of the SNP amendments are of course vexatious nonsense, due to the fact that they want independence but Scotland doesn’t. The amendments trying to deliver independence by the back door rightly failed.

          But many others, far from being ignored, have actually been adopted. Take the first amendment from the SNP, reinforcing the permanence of the Scottish Parliament by requiring a referendum to dissolve it. This amendment was backed by Labour, fell, but then was brought back by the government and passed at the Third Reading.

          There are plenty of other example like this. The idea that Scotland’s MPs are being ignored is a dangerous falsehood being promoted for unpleasant reasons.

  8. To say the constitutional question was settled last year is a strange one.
    Everybody should just shut up?
    I’d reckoned last year and the GE this year will be talked about for decades.
    How a major political party with its base in working class Scotland came apart at the seams.
    And the leadership just walked away.

  9. I do not see any need for creating yet more politicians and a club for ex MPs who were given their P45’s and I am sorry to say that this idea coming from an unelected peer in a Undemocratic House of Lords takes the biscuit if you ask me there are enough of this ilk getting their corn at via expenses at Westminster so we don’t want the same to happen to Scottish Taxpayer’s money in Scotland, anyway I won’t worry to much about this idea as there is about as much chance of this happening as me washing some dishes which is zero. Finally what’s up with sending the ex labour MPs to the House of Lords Westminster could it be that Jeremy has given them a knock back.

Comments are closed.