AFTER the other-worldly serenity and solemnity of the state funeral at the beginning of the week, the noise and grind of politics makes a rude and unwelcome return. After the country was brought together, in an awesome reminder of what serves to unite us, we will once again now descend into the rancour and squabbles of what passes for our paltry politics, the tired grievances full of sound and fury, signifying – for the most part – nothing.

Before the start of Holyrood’s new political term was interrupted by the shock of that news, nearly two weeks ago, from Balmoral, a theme was beginning to emerge. A theme that all was not well – that all was not as it should be. Yes, MSPs were returning from their long summer absence but returning to do what? Turning up to the Parliament to achieve what, to make what changes, to address which of the public’s pressing concerns?

We all know what the public are most concerned about – the cost of living crisis. But over the summer the impression had formed that this was for Westminster to fix – that this would be the No1 test for the new prime minister Liz Truss and her team. And so it is. But meanwhile, what is Holyrood for?

We all know what the Scottish Government are most concerned about – to prosecute the case for independence. But over the summer the message had begun to sink home that this was now in the hands of the Supreme Court, the Scottish Government’s own legal team having referred it there, to park it, unable to make progress, until after the Justices have ruled. That won’t be for months – they’ve not even heard the case yet, never mind decided it. And meanwhile, what is Holyrood for?

A lot of people are asking this question, none with greater authority than Professor James Mitchell, Scotland’s premier political scientist. Professor Mitchell has been writing and worrying about Scottish politics for a very long time. He can remember life before devolution. He can remember the problems devolution was designed to be a solution to. He can remember the promise that devolution would herald a new kind of politics, a new kind of parliament even. And he looks at it all now and he scratches his professorial head and wonders out loud, what is Holyrood for?

Because it isn’t doing anything useful. Our national parliament is not marshalling our national resources to bring energy and insight, wisdom and wit, to solve our nation’s problems. The NHS struggles. Schools slide. The economy falters. Growth is thrown into reverse. Investment melts away. Infrastructure crumbles.

Holyrood is a parliament in breach of promise. A quarter of a century after the dawn of devolution and, manifestly, it has failed to deliver: our schools are poorer, our society is more divided, and our economy is worsening. Professor Mitchell is not alone in wanting to know why.

There are those who will say it is because Parliament lacks powers. There are those who will say it is because Parliament lacks the right processes and procedures to hold the powerful to account. Both excuses are baloney. Parliament is failing because it lacks the right people.

Parliaments are places to have arguments – quite literally, that is what they are for. They are places where people come to talk – to have a parley. Not for its own sake, one hopes, but for the betterment of the nation. You bring your perspective and I bring mine; we meet in Parliament and thrash it out; agreeing a way forward that learns from both our perspectives. As problems are addressed, problems are solved.

This is what should happen. But it is not what happens in the Scottish Parliament. Instead, in Holyrood, drones arrive to parrot scripts pre-prepared by party whips. Seals arrive to clap empty soundbites dropped by party leaders, whose agents micromanage everything from committee membership to seating plans. If it is a zombie parliament it is because it is full of zombies. A parliament for the undead. A parliament for the hard of thinking.

This is unfair, for there are those, even on the most disciplined benches, who despite all the brain-shrinking tricks of the party managers, continue to show flickers and flashes of thought. They are rare beings, but they do exist. One such as John Mason, the SNP member for Shettleston. I do not share many of Mr Mason’s convictions, but at least he has some, and at least he voices them.

Or rather, at least he did. For he has of course been muzzled. It is not his view that the basic rate of income tax should start for middle earners at 60% which has landed him in trouble, but his religiously-held views about abortion. He dares to differ from his party leadership that anyone criticising abortion is an affront to human dignity and, for his pains, he has been silenced, placed on formal warning. In the SNP, even matters of conscience are now subject to the rule of the whips, it appears.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, this is the same SNP that recently tried to use the floor of the House of Commons to de-platform pro-life voices from BBC Scotland. The intolerance of dissent has long been there to see – now it is being brought to bear on the SNP’s own elected members.

This is the very opposite of what a grown-up Parliament is supposed to be. How can you stage a parliamentary debate in a chamber where everyone is pre-programmed to agree? That isn’t debate at all. It’s the brain-dead incantation of approved party line, repeated ad nauseam.

It does not matter how creative the country’s leading political scientists are. People make parliaments: and if the wrong people get into them it makes little difference what powers parliament has, or what processes and procedures it can deploy. With the wrong people in it, a Parliament will simply wither and die, fading into the dark like a lone piper’s lament.