THE SNP has launched a parliamentary power grab after handing a string of MSPs jobs as aides to the senior ministers they are supposed to hold to account.

The Government was accused of moving to undermine the authority of Holyrood after it emerged that when senior ministers appear before committees they will face questions from their own parliamentary liaison officer - junior MSPs appointed by Nicola Sturgeon to assist senior, more powerful colleagues in their roles.

Education Secretary John Swinney's assistant, Jenny Gilruth, was given her role after she was put forward to sit on the education committee while Kate Forbes was made aide to finance secretary Derek Mackay after she secured a place on the finance committee. The pattern is repeated across every cabinet brief.

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Opposition parties said the backbenchers would face a clear conflict of interests when performing their supposed function on committees, such as quizzing ministers, holding the Government to account, issuing potentially critical reports and amending legislation, amid wider concerns that Holyrood's once esteemed committee system is failing. With the role of a PLO in part to be the 'eyes and ears' of a minister in parliament, the move also ensures each cabinet secretary will have an insider on the committees that could cause them the most problems. The aides are also allowed access to confidential Government information while fellow MSPs serving on committees are not.

Academics again raised concern that Holyrood's committees were proving far less effective than those at Westminster. In the UK parliament the equivalent of PLOs - Parliamentary Private Secretaries - are banned from participating in any business associated with the department or minister they serve yet at Holyrood the aides have all been handed a crucial parliamentary role directly linked to their boss's brief.

Paul Cairney, Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the University of Stirling, said no Scottish Government had yet been willing to "let go" and allow the supposedly independent role of committees to develop.

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He added: "Devolution came with the promise of 'new Scottish politics' rather than 'old Westminster'. Yet, it inherited the most important Westminster practices, including a tendency of the party in government to dominate public policy and receive often-minimal challenges from parliament.

"They make sure that they have at least one key MSP on each committee to help them agree the party line that all their MSPs are expected to follow. So, this development, of parliamentary aides to ministers corresponding almost exactly with committee membership is really an extension of longstanding practices to curb the independent power of parliaments and their committees.

"In Westminster committees, some MPs can make a career as a chair, and their independence from government is far clearer. Maybe the only surprise is that 'new politics' seems worse than old Westminster."

Concern was raised at Holyrood when parliament was asked to approve the membership of committees before it was known who the PLOs would be. Ken Mackintosh, the presiding officer, has asked the aides to declare their role in the Holyrood chamber the first time they participate in business relevant to their minister's brief but action has not been taken over committee membership.

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Other MSPs who could be seen to have a conflict of interests are Fulton MacGregor, who sits on the justice committee and is aide to justice secretary Michael Matheson, and Tom Arthur, health committee member and assistant to health secretary Shona Robison. Angela Constance's two assistants - George Adam and Mairi Evans - both have roles on committees directly relevant to the social security secretary's brief.

Ross Greer, the Green MSP, said: "Many of these new PLOs are capable MSPs who could make a really significant contribution to their committees but it is hard to see how that is possible when they are on the committee scrutinising their own bosses.

"The conflict of interests is clear and the public will be disappointed to see parliamentary scrutiny of the government eroded in this way. Holyrood needs progress on the wider agenda of reform to improve scrutiny but the government could at least show parliament more respect by allowing it to do its job as effectively as possible."

A spokesman for the SNP said: "In no sense do the responsibilities held by PLOs prevent them from participating fully in the scrutiny of legislation and of government that is undertaken by committees in the Scottish Parliament."