CHANGE is coming to Holyrood. At least if Ken Macintosh gets his way. The Presiding Officer last week established an independent Commission on Parliamentary Reform. Chaired by the former BBC Scotland controller and outgoing Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, John McCormick, it will look at chamber and committee business, the scrutiny of legislation, and public engagement and understanding. Its report is due in the PO’s pigeonhole next June.

It’s a laudable wade through treacle. As students of the century-old effort to abolish the House of Lords will know, parliamentary reform is the political equivalent of how the Forth Bridge was once painted. It never quite finishes, even though it seems the end must surely be in sight.

Mr Macintosh’s predecessor, Tricia Marwick, took a good crack at it in the last session. She emerged frustrated, saying reform of parliament’s procedures and structures remained the “number one priority”, admitting she had “never won” her battle to shake up committees.

If the current PO is to have more success, he would do well to get down to brass tacks. His statement announcing the Commission was a curious thing. The Commission, it said, would be taking a “serious look” at “fundamental issues”. However it also said things weren’t all bad. “The parliament’s systems are not broken but they are in need of an MoT.” Which although a cute soundbite, doesn’t really do justice to the situation.

Because it’s pretty obvious some of the parliament’s systems – certainly the committee system – are bust. They don’t work in all weathers. Under the last majority government, the committee system, supposedly Holyrood’s great asset, divided irretrievably down party lines. With SNP MSPs focused on winning the referendum and keen to avoid any embarrassment, loyalty rapidly trumped scrutiny, and instead of prioritising good law-making, the system became the executive branch’s rubber stamp.

To be fair to Mr Macintosh, his statement did nod toward the problem. “Over the last decade, we have seen Scottish politics becoming increasingly tribal and divisive. This has, among other things, made it challenging for MSPs to find the space to develop in their distinct role as parliamentarians,” he concluded. Decoded, it means the rise of the SNP has brought the constitutional question to the fore, polarising political debate. As for parliamentarians needing “space to develop”, that’s a euphemism for MSPs being party creeps. But why merely nod to the problem? Better, surely, to call it out. A little MSP-shaming wouldn’t go amiss.

Suggestions are already being offered to the Commission. The Tories yesterday said opposition parties should always convene certain committees, and MSPs should effectively have tenure, sitting on the same committees the entire parliamentary term. Which might, with luck, encourage more free thinking, or possibly offer a fresh definition of purgatory. But the Commission’s remit still seems to avoid the elephant in the room: could Holyrood cope if Scotland became independent?

With the First Minister talking of a second referendum before Brexit and support for Yes just shy of 50 per cent, it would be odd if the McCormick Commission didn’t consider the matter. In recent weeks, I’ve noted some of the SNP’s headaches, and their troubles are mounting. But a vote for independence in the next couple of years is still an eminently credible scenario.

The SNP’s last White Paper didn’t foresee any changes at Holyrood. The number of MSPs would remain 129. New Zealand’s 4.5m people have 121 MPs, it pointed out. It also dismissed the creation of a second chamber after independence, citing New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and Sweden as examples of small nations with unicameral parliaments. But the White Paper no longer carries the weight of Holy writ, even in the SNP. Its confident predictions on the economy and oil prices were, to put it kindly, very much of their time.

As more powers flow to Holyrood, the workload on government and parliament grows. If Scotland were independent, more and more MSPs would end up in government as ministers, whips and aides, depleting the numbers available for committees, just as the burden on those committees shot up. Parliament could sit on more days in response, or more committees could be created. But the fundamental problem of capacity wouldn’t go away. All those new powers and responsibilities, and still the same number of MSPs as the distant days of 1999? Ms Marwick was onto something when she argued for a second chamber.

The White Paper dodged the issue because it didn’t want to make independence look like a job creation scheme for politicians, or raise the spectre of more building costs at Holyrood. But if the McCormick Commission is, as billed, independent, it should address the matter head-on.