Holyrood could elect committee conveners after 2021 elections

Holyrood could follow in the footsteps of Westminster by introducing elected committee conveners after the next Scottish Parliament elections.

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh said a proposal for this is under consideration by members of the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

If approved, it could be introduced after the May 2021 elections, he said.

The Commission on Parliamentary Reform has already recommended the change, which could follow the introduction of elected committee chairmen and women in the House of Commons in 2010.

Mr Macintosh said: “It’s before the SPPA Committee right now. The idea would be for that particular recommendation.

“If it gets approved, it wouldn’t be for this current Parliament, it would be the next.”

MSPs applaud Ken Macintosh on his election as Presiding Officer (Danny Lawson/PA)

He spoke about the possible reform in an interview with the Press Association to mark the 20th anniversary of the first Scottish Parliament elections on May 6 1999.

Mr Macintosh was elected to Holyrood then as the Labour MSP for Eastwood, a seat which he held until 2016 when he was ousted by Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw.

He returned to Holyrood via the regional list system representing the West of Scotland area and went on to become the Parliament’s fifth presiding officer.

Mr Macintosh said he never considered standing for elected office before Holyrood was created but put himself forward in 1999 “without any thought initially that I would become an MSP”.

His first child was born just five days before he was elected.

Mr Macintosh said:  “I can’t tell you how excited I was.

“I often use the word euphoria because it was slightly unreal.”

While he accepts the two decades of devolution have not “all been perfect”, Mr Macintosh said Scotland is in a better place now than it was when he was first elected.

“The modern Scotland we’re in now, it is quite a different Scotland from the one I was brought up (in),” he said.

“I’m not going to pretend the Parliament itself or the politics practised in the Parliament have got the answers but it has definitely changed the face of Scotland.

“The Parliament has become the centre of established civic life in Scotland, people follow what is going on here, they know what is going on here, they know their issues will be raised here.

“That doesn’t get round the issue that there are intractable problems or difficulties, and the Parliament doesn’t have all the answers, but you can look at major pieces of legislation and major changes around land reform, free personal care, the smoking ban, as real statements of intent.

“Pieces of legislation on issues that would not have received attention beforehand at Westminster because it was too difficult to find time and things like the smoking ban where we led the way.”

He accepts Holyrood is “not as diverse as the country we represent”, with only 35% of the 2016 intake of MSPs being female – slightly less than the 37% that was achieved in the 1999 election.

Meanwhile, in 20 years just four MSPs from a black and ethnic minority (BME) background have been elected.

“We have a big job to do and the Parliament is working with all parties to improve diversity,” the Presiding Officer said.

He is also concerned about the “level of aggression, the use of quite violent language” on social media.

Here he wants the Parliament and MSPs to lead by example, stating: “We are already in a time of quite polarised political disputes, I think it really matters that the Parliament can set a good example.”

Mr Macintosh said: “People don’t tend to talk to each other face-to-face like that, it tends to be existing on social media platforms but it is very worrying because it begins to spill over to the public discourse as well.

“If you are always using aggressive, violent language I think there is a danger of that aggression and violence spilling over.”

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh with Queen Elizabeth II at the opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament in 2016 (Jane Barlow/PA)

He added: “Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, newer even than the Parliament itself, and most politicians are active on social media, young people are certainly, that is the way they get their information.

“We are adjusting to that and there is a really an imperative we take the lead in showing you can’t behave with impunity on social media, you have to establish values and show an example just as you do in other parts of your life.”

Mr Macintsoh continued: “As an institution, and as individuals in that institution, MSPs can set an example.

“I don’t want to lose the passion that gets people into politics in the first place, I just want people to be respectful in the way they express that.”

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