NEXT year the Scottish Parliament will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Its quarter-century is an apt time to consider what it does well and where it falls short. I hope that, as this year and next unfold, Scotland will find itself in a position to have that discussion – and to have it honestly. For we are not there yet. As a nation we are, in the main, overwhelmingly defensive about our Parliament.

We need not be. Only the tiniest minority on the extreme fringes of Scottish politics would rather be without it. All five of Scotland’s main parties consider the Scottish Parliament to be at the heart of their plans, and no British Government would entertain for a moment the notion of abolishing it.

Lest you are in any doubt about that, consider the UK’s response to Covid. The UK Government could easily have declared the pandemic to be a state of emergency triggering the UK’s emergency regime – the Civil Contingencies Act.

Had this occurred, all Covid-related emergency regulations would have been made for the whole of the UK by UK ministers. Neither the Scottish ministers nor the Scottish Parliament would have had any role to play at all (they could all have been furloughed).

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But as we know, this is not what happened. Instead, there were different lockdown regimes imposed in each of the UK’s four nations, with each government making its own decisions through 2020 and 2021 about how and when to release us from the various restrictions. It was messy. But that is what the modern UK is – no longer a top-down country in which one size fits all, but a devolved state in which institutions are free, within the limits of the law, to make their own decisions – even in a time of emergency.

Devolution is here to stay. Realistically, the only way it could be brought to an end would be for Scotland to leave the UK and become an independent state but, since last autumn’s breakthrough Supreme Court judgment, it has been clear to everyone that that isn’t happening any time soon.

Thus, we are stuck with devolution, and so we really should take stock, be honest with ourselves about what is going well and what is not, and see if we can make improvements. I for one believe we can do a whole lot better. If I were judging it, I’d give the Scottish Parliament a score of no more than five out of ten – and I don’t think we should settle for so mediocre a result.

Let’s start with the positives. What Holyrood has done well is to establish itself as the heart of the nation’s politics. This is not to be taken for granted – the same could not be said, for example, of the Welsh Senedd in Cardiff or the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

Parliaments have three tasks. They debate the affairs of the nation. They hold the government of the day to account for their policies, actions and decisions. And they make laws.

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Holyrood undertakes and performs the first of these tasks well. It is where we look, as Scots, for leadership and debate on the matters of the moment. It lies at the fulcrum – at the centre – of our politics. But, of a parliament’s tasks, this is the least important. Its value lies in symbolism rather than in effectiveness.

When we turn to the second and third tasks, Holyrood has much to learn. The truth is it has never been good at holding ministers to account and, in recent years, it has got a whole lot worse. Ministers regard Parliament as being – at best – a place where they have to explain what they are doing: but not why they are doing it.

Ministers know it is not the merits of their (or their opponents’) arguments that win the day in Holyrood, but the sheer weight of numbers. No matter how risible a minister’s performance, everybody knows, government and opposition alike, that that minister is never going to be removed from office by a vote in Parliament.

The contrast with the House of Commons is stark. Last year saw the removal, against their will, not merely of ministers but of prime ministers – two of them! – because backbenchers made it clear they no longer had confidence in their administrations.

Such a move is unthinkable in Holyrood. No minister, no matter how lowly, feels the slightest jeopardy. They know their futures lie in the First Minister’s hands alone. MSPs have no prospect of removing even the lousiest minister from office unless and until the First Minister herself has decided it is time for that minister to move on. Ministerial accountability to Parliament is, in Holyrood, a sham.

The Herald: The future of Holyrood ministers 'lie in the First Minister's hands alone'The future of Holyrood ministers 'lie in the First Minister's hands alone' (Image: Newsquest)

Which leaves law-making. In the parliamentary session in which I served, I thought Holyrood did this well. This is not to say I agreed with all the law Parliament passed – of course I did not – but even when I disagreed I thought, in the main, that the law-making process had been robust.

But no longer. The debacle of the outrageous way the Gender Recognition Reform Bill was railroaded through Parliament in December was reminiscent of Bills from earlier sessions, on Offensive Behaviour at Football and on Named Persons, which had to be thrown out subsequently.

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Everyone expects the Gender Recognition Bill to end up in the Supreme Court, just like indyref2 did, and Named Persons, and the Children’s Rights Bill. The Scottish Government lost every time.

It should not be the role of the Supreme Court to act as the revising chamber for Holyrood’s inept legislation – but it is a role the Court is having to play at the moment owing to the disastrous way Holyrood is mismanaged.

The first item on any Holyrood (Reform) Bill should be to shore up its broken law-making procedures so that the Supreme Court can stop having to step in to correct the legal nonsense our national parliament keeps trying to put onto the statute book.

Adam Tomkins was a Conservative MSP for the Glasgow region from 2016 to 2021