IN 2014 a breakdown of the personal records of MSPs showed that 17 per cent of them were educated in independent schools compared to only four per cent of the population at large. Three years later, a similar breakdown shows that, following the elections in May, the figure on privately-educated MSPs has now risen to 20 per cent. If the ideal of a nation’s parliament is to reflect the people it represents, then Holyrood appears to be further away from it than it used to be.

The Tory factor helps explain some of the change. The Conservatives did better in the May elections than many, including some in the party, expected and Tories are more likely to come from a privately-educated background than politicians from other parties. This is particularly so in the House of Commons, where the Eton effect is famously pervasive, but it has also skewed the figures at Holyrood. There are more Conservative MSPs, therefore there are more privately-educated ones.

However, the Tory factor is only one part of the picture, and no one should dismiss the new figures as simply a Conservative problem Quite the opposite. The Labour group at Holyrood is much smaller than it was, but 20 per cent of them went to private school. The proportion of privately educated MSPs in the Conservative has also fallen.

On the face of it, the SNP would appear to be the most meritocratic party, with under ten per cent of its politicians coming from private schools and some of that will be a genuine reflection of the fact the party recruited many new MSPs from the broad-based Yes campaign. But the proportion of SNP MSPs who were educated privately is still twice the figure for the general population. A closer look at the figures for the SNP and the other parties also reveals that, among those who did not go to private school, many did attend the more successful comprehensives in the most affluent parts of Scotland.

Taken all together, what the figures demonstrate is that Holyrood can still boast that it draws a smaller proportion of its politicians from private schools than Westminster (albeit the gap is getting smaller). But the figures also show Scotland’s parliament is an overwhelmingly middle class institution and that the influence of private schools and the leading comprehensives is still as strong in Scotland as it ever was.

Holyrood must aim to change this, but part of the reason it has ended up this way is that it reflects the inequality in wider society – the prevalence of private education can be seen in parliament, but it is also obvious in many other parts of society, including law, business and the media. Politics in general has also become increasingly dominated by graduates, which again gives private pupils an in-built advantage – more than 80 per cent of private pupils go to university while in some state schools it is less than a quarter.

In aiming for change, Holyrood will need to tackle the deep-seated divisions that got us here in the first place: the gap between those nice comprehensives and other state schools, the fact that access to university is still unequal, and, behind it all, the poverty that leaves children struggling at school from an early age. The ideal remains a parliament that reflects the people it represents. If Holyrood tackles Scotland’s inequalities of education and opportunity, perhaps one day it will reach it.