Holyrood's top official has called for a rethink of the Scottish Parliament’s voting system, arguing it remains unloved, overly complex and misunderstood after 20 years.

Sir Paul Grice said the semi-proportional system had also failed to bring about European-style co-operation between parties, partly because of Westminster’s continued influence. 

The chief executive and clerk of the Parliament since its foundation in 1999, Sir Paul said there was also a case for MSPs overhauling local government in the next session.

The comments echo those of former first minister Lord McConnell, who recently said it was “unbelievable” there had been no council reorganisation since the Tories were in power in the mid-90s.

Sir Paul, who was knighted for his services to the Parliament in 2016, was speaking to The Herald as part of its coverage of the 20th anniversary of devolution.

Holyrood’s 129 MSPs are elected using the Additional Member System, which gives each elector two votes, one to elect a constituency MSP and one for a regional party list. The results of the 73 constituency elections then decide the election of 56 additional, or list, MSPs – seven from each of the country’s eight parliamentary regions.

The parties are then allocated list MSPs to make the overall result more proportional, with the smaller parties – and occasional independents – more likely to get in on the list.

The result is that each elector is represented by eight MSPs in total, one constituency MSP and seven list MSPs.

Although the system was created at Westminster, Holyrood recently acquired the power to change its own electoral system through the 2016 Scotland Act.

Sir Paul said: “It’s complicated system. Do people really understand? It is hard to understand d’Hondt [the system used to allocate list seats].

“It works, in the sense it retains the constituency link, which I think was felt to be important.

“But it’s naturally a hybrid. It’s not pure proportional representation (PR). So that complexity is a question mark over it still, I think.”

One of the early hopes of the Scottish Parliament was that a voting system designed to result in coalitions and minorities would lead to more co-operation between parties, and less of the partisan divide entrenched at Westminster.

However Sir Paul said politics at Holyrood remained influenced by Westminster.

He said: “That culture of co-operation, politically, is something that is deeply rooted in many continental parliaments.

“We are still essentially a British system, fundamentally, with a PR system grafted on to it. “Maybe it’s not surprising that it’s taking some time to work out what exactly do we want.

“Is it winner takes all? Or is it this system that ‘There is no winner and the people who done best kind of get together’. I’m not sure there’s been enough discussion.”

He said the scope for genuine cross-party work was limited by the break-neck speed at which politicians and the Parliament were expected to react to election results.

“If you look a continental European parliament, if it meets within two or three months of an election, that’s good going,” he said. If we’re not meeting within seven days my good friends on the fourth estate are saying, ‘What are the politicians are up to?’

“There’s a huge pressure immediately after elections to get on with it.

“I’m not blaming anyone else. It’s not even the political culture.

“There’s just a deep expectation that an election produces a winner, and they get on with it, and they have to make the best of it. Yet we’re expecting, without a clear winner, people to build a coalition or work in a minority.

“I genuinely think it’ll take time to bed down, or there will be a bit of a different electoral system. What I don’t think will happen is that we’ll give up and think, ‘Well actually, let’s just go back to winner-takes-all, first-past-the-post.’ I think we’re too far down the road.”

Speaking about devolution last month, Lord McConnell also said it was time to review Holyrood’s electoral system as voters had never been comfortable with it.

He called for time limits for list MSPs, to force them to try to get elected in constituencies “and build a proper relationship with the electorate” instead of with the party machine.

He said one reason the Parliament did not work on a cross-party basis as often as it should was “because so many members owe their place to the party rather than to the electorate, and we need to find some reforms to tackle that issue”.

He also said local government had become a “shadow of its former self” as “much of the energy has been sucked out of Scotland” by the Parliament.

Willie Sullivan, senior director at the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “Twenty years on from devolution it’s important to consider how Scottish democracy can evolve and improve as times change as we welcome any discussion on how this can be done.”

 “Scotland is already far ahead of Westminster in using the Additional Member System for the Parliament, alongside Single Transferable Vote in local elections - leading the way in creating a balanced and more democratic chambers that are a far cry from the broken politics of first-past-the-post.

 “It’s important that any electoral system in the Scottish Parliament keeps this principal of proportionality where those in power represent the views of the voters who put them there. Scotland’s success since devolution has been based on this fairer and more representative politics and any changes made must keep that at its heart.”