Committees. Not usually a subject to set the pulse racing.

But then along comes one like yesterday’s extraordinary appearance by Dominic Cummings, with the Prime Minister’s former adviser, at times appearing agonised by the deadly chaos he saw and helped get elected, sledgehammering his old boss and a dismal Whitehall machine.

It was an unprecedented occasion. A key witness eager to unburden himself and point the finger on an issue with the highest possible stakes. We will not see its like again for some time, I bet.

Parliamentary committees, whether examining government departments or poring over legislation, are rarely so compelling. Especially at Holyrood.

One of the interesting differences between yesterday’s session and the typical Scottish Parliament offering was who was in charge.

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Opening the questions and setting the tone of blunt inquiry was Greg Clark, a minister from the outset of the Tories return to power in 2010, who held two cabinet posts and is now chair of the Commons science and technology select committee.

The other lead inquisitor was Jeremy Hunt, a three-time cabinet secretary from 2010 to 2019 who now chairs the health and social care committee.

It is not unusual for former big beasts to chair select committees, posts that are not only elected by MPs, conferring authority, but are remunerated at £16,422 a year, so the occupants have to earn their keep.

It helps maintain the tradition of independent-minded scrutiny, even by MPs of the governing party.

The experience former ministers bring to the job is also invaluable as they know best how the system works and how best to penetrate the wiles and evasions of officialdom.

Both Mr Clark and Mr Hunt are Tories perfectly willing to make life hard for a Tory Prime Minister.

Yes, both were Remainers ousted in Boris Johnson’s first reshuffle, so there may be personal factors at play, but they are still part of a healthier-than-Holyrood system where loyalty to one’s party is not paramount.

Meanwhile in Edinburgh, it is rare for recent ministers to be committee conveners, and rarer still for former cabinet secretaries to take on the role.

In the 2011-16 Scottish parliament, there were only three former SNP ministers who led committees, and only two in the 2016-21 session, when one former cabinet secretary also fleetingly took charge of a committee for two recess months one year.

In Westminster, committee chair is a perfectly respectable afterlife for a former minister or cabinet secretary, with remuneration offering ‘jam today’ to make up for the workload.

Holyrood is quite different. Conveners are not elected by the parliament as a whole, but by the MSPs on each committee.

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With parties choosing which MSPs go where, it gives the government of the day a huge say in who gets many of the gigs, and naturally it has no wish to implant thorns in its own side.

Convenerships are very often the stepping stones to ministerial office.

There is no remuneration for the considerable amount of extra graft.

Instead, there is the lure of ‘jam tomorrow’ in the form of promotion.

That incentivises loyalty to the government and not causing a fuss.

Other MSPs of the governing party follow this example. Mavericks, such as Alex Neil, are welcome but rare.

Holyrood’s committee system was famously supposed to be the jewel in its crown, offering the scrutiny of a second chamber without the cost.

But as we enter a sixth parliamentary term, its clear they’ve been a let-down, arguably reaching their nadir in the gutless toadying from some SNP MSPs during the Alex Salmond inquiry.

Some problems come down to the parliament’s size. The talent pool is more paddling than diving.

Even with the SNP having close to a majority, around a fifth of all MSPs are part of the government, and so unavailable for committee duty.

Infrequent reshuffles mean a low turnover in ministers, so government experience is lacking among the rest.

The present First Minister’s habit of re-hiring old hands also leaves former ministers who are on committees wondering if they might one day return, so best to bite their tongue.

There have been many tinkering attempts at reform. In 2014, then Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick asked the Standards Committee to investigate the case for elected conveners, an idea she supported.

“If conveners were elected by the whole Parliament, they would derive their authority and mandate from the Parliament itself,” she said.

“This shift of responsibility... would strengthen the role of the Parliament and so enhance the sharing of power between the government, the Parliament and the people.”

The Committee preferred fudge, concluding the Parliament “should set aside” the idea on elected conveners and discuss general scrutiny instead.

The next PO, Ken Macintosh, tried again, establishing an independent commission on parliamentary reform to help improve scrutiny.

It backed elected conveners, with procedures in place from the start of the current session, with potential remuneration based on workload.

The committees have yet to be formed for this session, but there is no sign yet of any elections or pay bumps.

Instead, it looks like the same old patronage and pusillanimity.

Nicola Sturgeon yesterday promised “unashamedly ambitious” policies for the coming term, while priding herself on Holyrood not transplanting “the old ways of Westminster”.

But grand plans merit deep scrutiny and Holyrood doesn’t offer it.

“We do not claim a monopoly of wisdom,” the First Minister added.

In that case, if some Westminster ways are worth importing, do it.