This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

With the Scottish Parliament turning 25 now seems to be a good time to ask whether it could be doing better. 

There is, it seems, some consensus that it could.

Over the weekend, the veteran Tory MSP Murdo Fraser published his “blueprint” for making Holyrood more effective.

The Scottish Parliament is, he said, caught in a “complex web of political polarisation and institutional stagnation”.

One of the recommendations in his pamphlet was the creation of a working group to look at whether or not Scotland needs more politicians than it already has.

This review, he says, should reflect "the fact that the Scottish Parliament possesses more powers than it did in 1999 and the increased work in committee and chamber level.”

He’s the latest big beast in Scottish politics to suggest the number of parliamentarians in Holyrood needs to be reassessed.

Over the weekend, Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone told the Scotsman it was “something that should be looked at.”

Jim Wallace, the former deputy first minister, has also said it may need “to be looked at again”.

Last week, members of the Senedd in Wales passed plans to increase their numbers from 60 to 96 at the next election.

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In the debate, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said reform would “make sure that the people of Wales are no longer democratically short-changed”.

Obviously, the hike in the number of MSPs comes with a hike in costs, around £17.8m extra a year on average, with set-up costs of around £8m.

That’s quite a big ask when money is tight.

Given that the Scottish Government looks set to roll back on a promise to hire 3,500 teachers because of cash flow problems, I can’t imagine there’d be too much enthusiasm to spend big on politicians.

It was the Scottish Constitutional Convention that first suggested we have 129 MSPs. It was there in their blueprint for devolution, Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right first published on St Andrew's Day 1995.

The 73 Holyrood constituencies would mirror the 72 Westminster constituencies we had at the time – but with Orkney and Shetland each getting a seat of their own.

The regions for the list vote were based on the eight European Parliament constituencies. 

With seven seats coming from each, that gave us 56 list MSPs taking us to 129.

The Herald: Winnie Ewing hands over the chair to Sir David Steele at the first session of the new Scottish ParliamentWinnie Ewing hands over the chair to Sir David Steele at the first session of the new Scottish Parliament (Image: Newsquest)
This isn’t the first time the number of MSPs has been up for discussion. Members of Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee looked into it in 2003 at the end of that first term.

The SNP described 129 as “the minimum working arrangement” and they suggested that “200 might cover the whole of Scotland in terms of the full powers that a Scottish Parliament could be looking at”.

The Tories suggested MSPs just work longer hours. 

When Labour’s Mohammad Sarwar asked the then Scottish secretary Alistair Darling if he thought there was a case for increasing the number of MSPs, the minister said, “No”.

“I see no reason to increase the number. I am not aware of a great clamour in Scotland to increase the number of MSPs at all. 

“That is not to say that there may not be one or two, but I think people in Scotland will probably take the view that 129 is fine and now let them get on with doing the things they were elected to do.”

While you might argue that Holyrood does not have the “full powers that a Scottish Parliament could be looking at,” thanks to the Calman Commission and the Smith Commission, there is no arguing that there are now a lot more “things” for our MSPs to do.

But is the question really about the quantity of MSPs rather than the quality?

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Last year, the former SNP minister Alex Neil bemoaned the candidates selected by parties. 

They “just want yes people, they want nodding donkeys – people who will do as they’re telt” he told the Scottish Sun.

“We have very few people in the parliament, in any of the parties, who (are) prepared to stand up and act independently of their party leadership.”

I always thought that was a little bit harsh, but the point stands that more MSPs may not necessarily mean better scrutiny.