Scotland

Former first ministers call for 'radical' change at Holyrood

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Media captionFormer first ministers Lord McConnell and Henry McLeish called for changes in how Holyrood operates

Two former first ministers have called for "radical" changes to the Scottish Parliament and its electoral system.

Jack McConnell suggested introducing term limits on list MSPs, who he said sometimes have "jobs for life".

And Henry McLeish said there would be "merits" to a system where all members were elected by a form of proportional representation.

Both men also told the Commission on Parliamentary Reform that there was a case for elected committee conveners.

The two former Scottish Labour first ministers expanded on points put forward in written evidence to the independent commission, which was set up by presiding officer Ken Macintosh to review Holyrood's role and responsibilities.

Mr McConnell, who was first minister between 2001 and 2007, said the parliament was working well in many respects, but said "there is a need to make some radical changes".

He said the balance of MSPs representing both their constituents and their political parties had "shifted far too far in the direction of the parties", particularly with respect to members elected via the regional list system.

He suggested imposing term limits on list MSPs so that they cannot have "jobs for life" simply by being picked out by their parties, a system he said "takes power away from voters".

Mr McConnell, who now sits in the House of Lords, also said he would be tempted to force candidates to choose between standing in a constituency ballot or on the regional list.

Image caption Henry McLeish said democracy was "very much under threat"

He also said there should be tougher question sessions for government ministers, with less "non-challenging" closed questions, which are seen in advance, and more "spontaneity".

He said: "It's only bad ministers who should fear tough question times - good ministers can learn from them."

Addressing the commission, which is chaired by former electoral commissioner John McCormick, Mr McConnell said "I implore you to be radical", noting that political insiders would be less inclined to change the system.

He said "there's a reason why so few people vote in Scottish Parliament elections", adding that the parliament needed to "work longer and harder".

"The chamber has become too predictable, too partisan and too structured," Mr McConnell said, suggesting evening sittings would add much-needed "drama" to proceedings.

'Massive changes'

However, the peer was "strongly against" increasing the number of MSPs, something Mr McLeish had suggested should be looked at in his written evidence.

When speaking before the committee, Mr McLeish said "massive changes" ongoing in politics meant "we need to look at the size of parliament".

While he said "there is a capacity issue" at Holyrood, he said there should not be a "rush" to increase it, but rather that "the debate could start now" ahead of the parliament taking on more responsibility in future.

Image caption Mr McConnell said ministerial question sessions should be more spontaneous

Mr McLeish argued that the Holyrood electoral system was better than the first-past-the-post system used at Westminster, but said there would be "merits" to a system where the whole parliament was elected via a form of proportional representation, for example via multi-member constituencies.

He also said Holyrood "needs a bigger identity in Scotland" at a time when "democracy is very much under threat" from things like Brexit, which Mr McLeish referred to as "a monumentally stupid idea".

Both men agreed there should be reform to the committee system, which Mr McConnell said had become "more and more partisan".

Mr McLeish said there was a "sensible case" to be made for having elected committee conveners, which he said would "lessen partisanship" and improve scrutiny.

Mr McConnell agreed, saying that power should be "in the hands of back benchers", which he said could "change the nature of committees almost overnight".

After hearing further evidence, the Commission on Parliamentary Reform is expected to submit its report to the presiding officer in June.

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