LIBERAL Democrats have drawn up radical proposals to shift the balance of power away from ministers towards MSPs – alongside plans to overhaul the voting system in response to Alex Salmond’s threat of “direct manipulation”.

Willie Rennie has set out his party’s blueprint to “to restore public confidence” in Holyrood following the the Salmond affair.

Under the plans, ministers could be found in contempt of parliament if they ignore the will of elected MSPs, while Nicola Sturgeon’s top civil servant could face scrutiny from politicians before being appointed – mirroring the hearing system for top appointees in the United States.

Mr Rennie has also pledged to return Holyrood to four-year parliamentary terms and change the additional member voting system, where Scots elect both a constituency and regional list MSP, to a single transferable vote – where candidates are ranked in order of preference.

The party also wants to bring forward plans to give organisations that rely on funding from the Scottish Government freedom to criticise - to remove the fear of losing out financially if they speak out.

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After key meetings during the Salmond fiasco were not minuted, Mr Rennie also wants to introduce a new “duty to record”, while Freedom of Information rules could also be strengthened under his proposals.

Mr Rennie told the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists' Association that overhauling Holyrood’s method of electing MSPs is needed to protect the “integrity of the voting system”.

He pointed to the attempts of Alba Party leader Alex Salmond to game the system to create a supermajority in favour of independence.

Mr Rennie said: “Alex Salmond has made it absolutely clear his sole purpose is to support Nicola Sturgeon and to secure independence. They are basically the SNP in another name.

“What Alba is doing is a direct manipulation to get a supermarjoirty rather than to pursue their own individual platform or agenda.

“I think they are deliberately trying to get more seats than the system was designed to give that set of policies and beliefs.”

In response to the threat, Mr Rennie wants changes to be made to Holyrood’s voting system.

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The Lib Dem leader pointed to the use of the voting system for Scottish councils, with “alliances being forged between parties who were bitterly opposed to each other”.

He added: “With STV (single transferable vote), you get people voting for individuals rather than parties.

“It might protect us from the potential undermining we’ve got over the horizon with the use of the list system.”

Mr Rennie wants a new contempt of parliament power to be utilised to ensure the Scottish Government cannot ignore the will of MSPs after SNP ministers set aside a host of Holyrood votes calling for key documents to be released.

The action, already in place at Westminster, “shifts the balance more in favour of the power of parliament” and gives MSPs “another tool” to hold minister to account.

Critics have pointed to the lack of accountability of permanent secretary Leslie Evans over the Scottish Government's botched handling of complaints against Mr Salmond – a process that cost taxpayers more than £500,000 and badly let down complainers.

Mr Rennie thinks more scrutiny is needed of top officials, pointing to his plans for “American-style hearings”.

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He added: “The Government would still obviously have the right to make their appointment in terms of a proposal, but they would have to get the approval of Parliament.

“We’ve always been in favour of parliamentary hearings for top officials so that Parliament can have greater control directly over the functioning of the executive – even if it is in a limited way on the initial appointment.”

Mr Rennie has also highlighted a lack of details of key meetings being published or even recorded – pointing to no minutes existing of a crucial encounter in the Salmond episode.

Echoing calls made last week by Labour leader Anas Sarwar for MSPs to be recalled by their constituents in "exceptional circumstances", Mr Rennie has also included triggers in his blueprint.

The Lib Dem leader said there have been too many MSPs who have faced scandals where “we’ve been unable to get of them”, which he said “has brought the Parliament into disrepute”.

He said any MSP recalled could either trigger a by-election or the next person on the regional list could be bumped up.

Mr Rennie added: “We do need the power now, with the proper triggers in place like a full committee judgement followed by 10% of the electorate in any one region or constituency and then they should be able to be removed.

“We do need to act on this now. If you've only got 129 MSPs, one out of place has a much bigger impact than one out of 650.”

Mr Rennie has also stressed the importance of a new “right to criticise” as he claimed “an awful lot of the public health experts were reluctant to speak out because of fears of losing their funding”.

He warned “that kind of subtle threat needs to be removed”, as he pointed to examples from the charity and third sector of orgnaisations being unwilling to criticise the Scottish Government.

Mr Rennie added: “The SNP have been in power for too long now – they've been in power for 14 years and they don’t want a shift in the balance of power between the Parliament and the Government and individual MSPs. Ultimately, it’s the establishment speaking and it’s a sign of a party that’s been in power for too long.

“If they want to try and restore the confidence in the parliament that they believe is the primary institution in Scotland, then they need to do something about refreshing it and this should be the way they do it.”