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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
03 April 2024
Former SNP minister: Scottish Parliament is 'behind Westminster' on internal democracy

Alex Neil retired from the Scottish Parliament at the 2021 election | Alamy

Former SNP minister: Scottish Parliament is 'behind Westminster' on internal democracy

Former SNP minister Alex Neil has said the Scottish Parliament is “behind Westminster in terms of internal democracy” because of a “lack of transparency and accountability” from the government to committees.

The former MSP was speaking alongside former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont and Holyrood magazine’s editor Mandy Rhodes at an event at the University of Edinburgh titled ‘Reform at Holyrood’.  

Neil said that the four key founding principles of the Scottish Parliament - openness, transparency, accountability, and sharing power - “are being eroded”. 

He was critical of the Scottish Government, telling the audience that it is “saying no” to handing over information to parliamentary committees that they have requested, giving the Salmond inquiry and the ferry fiasco as examples.  

Neil said: “The government shouldn’t be allowed to say no. It should be automatic; every parliamentary committee that asks for documentation should get it. 

“And if there was a dispute with the government, then in my view it should be referred to the information commissioner and they can decide if it genuinely is something so sensitive that it could do net damage. 

“But government ministers shouldn’t have the power to stop it. It should be automatic that if a committee demands the paperwork, they should get it - no ifs, no buts, unless it is a very exceptional case in which case you ask the information commissioner to rule on it.” 

He added that it makes his “blood boil” when people say the Scottish Parliament’s committee system was the answer to a second chamber.   

Both Lamont and Neil were critical of the list system used in Scottish Parliament elections. 

The former Scottish Labour said “there is a problem with how the list operates” in that the candidates have to “address the selectorates” to “be placed higher than their colleagues”. 

She said: “The complete break in connection between being an elected member and the needs of your constituents is reinforced by the fact the people you have to keep in with is the folk in your party. 

“And the idea that I was going to have to bite my tongue on some of the issues I've been arguing for all my political life, I just couldn’t bear it. 

“You end up arguing for what the people who are going to vote for you want to hear. It’s a closed circle.” 

Neil described the list system as “pernicious” and suggested it should be replaced with a system of STV, which he said “is a far better system of proportional representation”. 

STV, or single transferable vote, is the system used for local council elections and allows voters to rank candidates by preference.

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