Parliament and Accountability in Scotland

The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament has replied to the complaint by Professor Hughes Hallet and Scott cited in my blog for 17th Jjanuary. It is remarkable. Short though it is, I had to read the letter more than once to make sure that I had read it properly. If you take out padding it essentially reduces to the following.

"the conduct of committee meetings is the responsibility of conveners alone, I have therefore forwarded your letter to the convener of the Scotland Bill Committee so that your specific concerns can be considered in the appropriate forum


The complaint by Scott and Hughes Hallett was essentially about the conduct of the meeting by the convener and Scott and Hughes Hallett are being told the only authority who can deal with and resolve this complaint is the convener herself .

If Scotland was a Third World country such behavior would cause amusement in some quarters, concern in others, and would be generally cited as an example of failure to absorb and adopt democratic traditions of fairness, transparency and accountability. But this is not a Third World country this is Scotland in the Twenty-First Century. And we still invite parliamentarians from emerging nations to Holyrood to show them how things should be done?

However, the reputations and credibility of all academics giving evidence to this committee have been tarnished, not just that of Scott and Hughes Hallett. The evidence of other academics to the committee whose views find more favour with the convener is already being used second-hand by political proxies (including some MSPs) to attack the reputations and credibility of Scott and Hughes Hallett. The reputations of this other group of academics are already also collateral damage since they are being seen in some quarters - unfairly - as being the stooges of the committee and its convener. No-one with a reputation to defend would be advised to be a witness to this committee. That is how much things have degraded.

The Scottish Bill Committee is utterly discredited and no-one who has a passing knowledge of the issues and what has happened will take its conclusions seriously. The cumulative damage to the reputation and credibility of the Parliament from such affairs (of which this is only the latest and most widely reported) is wider and will be longer lasting. But perhaps the most damaging element in all this is the short letter from the Presiding Officer which makes it clear that Parliament is unable (or unwilling) to repair itself or any damage it causes to the democratic process in such contexts.

I have yet to receive the Presiding Officer's answer to my own complaint, I expect it soon because I do not expect it to take him long to write, indeed I believe I pretty well know what it will say already.

Neil Kay 19th January 2010