TAXPAYERS could save more than £2 million a year if Scottish MPs were to continue virtual Parliament proceedings permanently.

According to MPs’ expense claims, around £2.2m is spent on travel and accommodation every year for just 59 Scottish MPs to shuttle back and forth to London.

Aside from saving money, campaigners say that digital sessions brought in for lockdown should be kept as they would invite a greater diversity of people to stand for election, give MPs more time in their constituencies, and help the environment with reduced travel.

It comes as a row rumbles on between parliamentary purists such as Old Etonian Jacob Rees-Mogg, and those who think that Westminster should embrace the 21st century and make their virtual capabilities a permanent fixture.

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Rees-Mogg, mockingly described as the “Minister for the 18th century” by some MPs, said this week that elected members must “set an example” and return to London.

Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and the most remote parliamentarian in the UK, hit back by likening him to a “Victorian mill owner”.

He said: “I’m not going to put my family or my community at risk just because Jacob Rees-Mogg has an aversion to modernity.

“He’s like a Victorian mill owner having a bit of a spat because his gentleman’s club has run out of his favourite claret. That is no way to run a modern parliament.”

House of Commons officials confirmed they spent £148,793 making arrangements for a virtual parliament, with the running costs estimated at £369,267 a month.

If even half of the 650 MPs reduced their travel and accommodation costs by working in their constituencies it would more than cover the price of the virtual system.

Pre-coronavirus, MPs typically travelled to Westminster on a Monday or Tuesday and often did not return until Friday. People with any caring responsibilities, single parents or people with mobility problems have previously struggled with the regime.

Not only is the travel time-consuming, MPs are required to sit in the Chamber from the beginning of a debate if they want to participate, and sessions can last for hours at a time. No food or drink is allowed, and MPs are not allowed to leave to go to the bathroom during debates.

Wendy Chamberlain, LibDem MP for North East Fife, said the experience can be embarrassing for those with disabilities.

She said: “I have a colleague who has a hidden disability who is permitted to have a water bottle in the chamber but she had to seek permission for that.

“One day she was due to speak in a debate – the protocol is you have to be there from the start of the debate. She had to go to the toilet, and she got a row from one of the deputies for doing that. She explained afterwards and they were very apologetic, but how demeaning that you have to talk about those things with political opponents, or just people you don’t know?

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“The hidden disabilities aspect is a huge thing and potentially a huge deterrent for people [considering running for election].

“Thinking about physical disabilities too, and how people get to the chamber ... it’s really not accessible.”

Tressa Burke, chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance, agreed. She told The Herald on Sunday that politics “has never needed disabled people more” and said: “Options for virtual parliaments would increase the likelihood of disabled people taking up their rightful roles and would better reflect the demographics of a quarter of the country.

“Decisions would be more likely to be based on the correct understanding of the problems and blockages disabled people face – such as lack of access, lack of accessible information and lack of the right support. By circumventing the inaccessible parliament and placing disabled people into political power roles, the right policies and solutions are far more likely: this would benefit all of society.”

The same can be said for parents who have well-documented problems balancing family life with parliamentary jobs.

Kirsty Blackman and Alison Thewliss, both SNP MPs, previously called for a more child-friendly approach to parliament after Blackman was chastised for bringing her children to a committee. While Westminster has a nursery, it is only available for those based in London full-time.

Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, said: “Westminster is an incredibly inefficient place in lots of ways. To be able to do committee sessions from a distance and vote remotely does show what is possible when parliament is forced to consider these things.

“There are serious challenges for lots of people in terms of running for parliament, single parents are certainly one of those groups as well as others who have different caring responsibilities.

“People thinking about parliament and how it runs is definitely overdue. Instead of spending a lot of time in the chamber waiting to speak, just now you can get on with other things – replying to constituents more easily and your time is better spent.”

The SNP as a whole have also been campaigning for the virtual parliamentary proceedings to continue, arguing that it would be irresponsible for parliamentarians to return while the pandemic is still raging.

Other MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have argued the same, prompting commentators to describe the row as a miniature version of the UK-wide divergence on messaging around lockdown restrictions. While English residents “Stay Alert”, Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish citizens are still to “Stay at Home”.