Question: Which globally recognised democracy, an exporter of freedom throughout the world, has the largest legislature in the democratic world, with no elected members?

Answer: the United Kingdom.

The House of Lords was thrust back into the spotlight last week by the announcement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s honours list. For anyone reading from outside the UK, this is the system by which a Prime Minister can select anyone he wishes to be placed into the upper house of the UK’s legislature to play an important role in making the laws that govern us all, and frequently to become a government minister, unanswerable to the elected members of the House of Commons. Yes, you read all of that correctly.

Most of the attention last week, as has become customary after the announcement of honours lists, was on the identity of the newly ennobled. The fire and fury focussed on the placement of brothers, husbands of former Prime Ministers and sons of former KGB agents, and, of course, a certain former leader of the Scottish Conservatives Party. All of this is, I suppose, an inevitable consequence of the relationship between politics and media.

However the identity of the ennobled is simply a consequence of the ability to ennoble, and it is the latter which should be the focus. Through the eyes of a democrat, the red benches of the House of Lords, with now over 800 unelected members, should sit uncomfortably side-by-side with the green benches of the 650 elected members in the House of Commons.

The existence of this large, 100 percent unelected legislature does not place us in great company. It is difficult to find a democracy with a legislative chamber which has no elected members in it. Locating such a thing in an autocracy is far easier, with Russia and Saudi Arabia being unfortunate examples.

Defenders of the House of Lords offer some perfectly well-intentioned and important arguments in favour of the red benches, primarily revolving around its central role as a reviser of legislation. They have a point; the quality of the work done by Lords in committees can often be very high, and a welcome correction on the legislation created by MPs, the quality of which can often be very low.

However whilst these defenders have a point, they miss the point, which is about democracy. They may be of high quality, in some cases, but the fact that the people over whom they preside have not placed them in their position at the ballot box is an overriding factor. And, I must say, I find it impossible to equate being a democrat to defending the existence of the House of Lords.

Or, at least, the existence of the Lords as it is currently composed. Our country is in a state of great change brought on by the actual and potential constitutional changes of Brexit and nationalism respectively, and in these times of great chaos we must seize great opportunity.

Major constitutional changes should come only after vaulting an extremely high barrier. We must take care to ensure that enduring change is not implemented on a whim, or as a result of the fashion of a snapshot in time. Virtue signalling has no place in decisions of this gravity.

However, conversely, we should not be afraid to change something which is archaic out of false respect for its age and stature. And the House of Lords surely now finds itself in this position.

Mr Johnson, whether he likes it or not, is the guardian of massive constitutional change. Brexit. Scottish independence. There is surely an argument to exploit this flux and become the proactive guardian of a change to the Lords (frankly, there’s a lot more to this constitutional change list; enough to create another newspaper article of its own). He could lay out a roadmap for the gradual increase in the election of members to the upper chamber, probably via some form of proportional representation, with a backstop date at which 100 per cent of members will be elected.

We will hear, of course, that the public don’t want more politicians, don’t want more elections, but that is, I’m afraid, a deliberate distraction from the real issue. The politicians are already there. Their cost is a teaspoon in the ocean, relatively speaking. And if the public really doesn’t want another set of elections, then they needn’t bother voting. But democracy demands that they at least have the choice.

The UK is not the only jurisdiction which needs to consider what to do with the body responsible for revising legislation. Scotland has its own problems in this respect, however they come from the other end of the scale.

The Scottish Parliament is unicameral, with the job of revising legislation sitting with MSPs in committees. Initially considered to be the jewel in the crown of Holyrood, the committee system has over the last two decades been exposed as at best weak, at worst a tool of government.

This deficiency was acknowledged by the Commission for Parliamentary Reform in its recent self-styled ‘MoT’, however the remit of that review reflected a lack of the courage required to make the more major changes which the institution probably needs.

One of those may well be a Senate to act as a more independent, stronger and better reviser of legislation, particularly since the Additional Member System of electing MSPs, designed to create coalition government, has been shown to be breakable.

The ongoing Scottish Government hate crimes legislation may well be another case study for the benefits of a revising chamber; this is not the first time that respected outside bodies have raised the prospect of damaging unintended consequences of badly drafted legislation, as the Law Society for Scotland have done in this instance.

Changing Westminster is devilishly difficult; its age and history makes unwinding convention a complicated matter. The same is not the case here in Scotland. Our institutions are young, and ripe for tinkering until we can get as close to perfection as possible. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach a puppy.

• Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.