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Former first minister calls for democracy summit to improve accountability

Holyrood Magazine

Former first minister calls for democracy summit to improve accountability

Former first minister Jack McConnell has called for a ‘democracy summit’ to be established to ensure the Scottish Government is held to account.

McConnell said the summit would “recommend a shake-up at Holyrood and St Andrew’s House and reinvigorate the home rule we so wanted to be different.”

Such a summit could involve civil leaders, former MSPs and “representatives of the different interests” and any recommendations flowing from it would be “hard to avoid”, he said.­

He suggested the legislation put in place to tackle the coronavirus pandemic did not allow for proper scrutiny of ministers’ decisions – and listed this as one of several concerns about transparency, alongside dealings with parliamentary inquiries and freedom of information requests.

And he noted there had been an absence of “strong voices from civic Scotland” in debate about COVID-19 powers as well as other issues, whereas “in previous decades, voices representing business and workers, the churches and faiths, local government leaders and many more would have spoken out and taken a stand.”

The former first minister also called for the Scottish and UK Governments to learn lessons from the pandemic about working together to tackle other issues, such as child poverty.

He made the comments at the annual Donald Dewar Memorial Lecture, this year marking 20 years since Dewar’s death.

While accepting much of the action taken in the early days of the pandemic was necessary, McConnell criticised the lack of checks and balances within new legislation and regulations.

He said: “When laws passed by the Scottish Parliament to allow temporary emergency powers to deal with the urgency of a crisis in March have become more permanent and less accountable than the equivalent in Westminster – under a government there that hardly seems to be particularly open and transparent – then the original vision of a new kind of parliament here in Scotland seems to have lost its way.”

Holyrood’s presiding officer, Ken MacIntosh, recently wrote to each of the political parties urging them to consider how best to involve MSPs in scrutinising the decisions taken by ministers. He said it was “time for the Parliament to reassert its role in holding the government to account”.

The presiding officer also committed to continuing discussions with the Scottish Government on ensuring consistency and transparency around announcements, following concerns from MSPs that many decisions had been taken without Parliament’s involvement.

Read the most recent article written by Louise Wilson - New five-tier coronavirus strategy unveiled by Scottish Government

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