A pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament has become a near inevitability since 2011. The Scottish National Party ruling by majority on its own, as was the case from 2011 to 2016, or with the help of the Greens, as was the case informally from 2016 to 2021, and formally since, has begun to feel like an unbreakable status quo. 

That there are early signs of change afoot – three of the last four polls, in the wake of the fractious SNP leadership contest, have reported a pro-Union majority – is insufficient reason to presume that this status quo is about to break.

Scottish politics – Scotland in general – is not the better for this dominance, irrespective of the party or movement in the unassailable position. We have been experiencing a period of, in effect, unchecked power. Impotent opposition parties have failed to exercise that critical external check. And an apparent lack of internal opposition has also meant that the internal check, so obviously present in Whitehall over recent years, has been lacking at St Andrew’s House.

This is not a political point; it is an affliction which would have manifested itself in a Labour government or a Conservative government in precisely the same way. It is human nature. A lack of opposition leads to laziness, complacency, or worse. And the outcome is poor policy thinking, poor consultation processes and, ultimately, poor legislation, which is of course the primary responsibility of our elected politicians.

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All of this is to say that we should reflect on the first quarter-century of devolution as having been, at best, only a partial success. There is absolutely no need to throw the baby out with the bath water, because the existence of the Scottish Parliament has been a net good for us. But there is a need to drain the bath water, scrub the bath, and refill it.

In 2016 then Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh ordered an "MOT" of the Scottish Parliament, to mark its 21st birthday but, in all honesty and partly because of the limited remit, the outcome was rather underwhelming. It represented a tinker rather than anything close to a rewiring.

But it is a rewiring that is needed now. There are three steps I believe need to be taken which would take Holyrood to the next level of its maturity, and which would bring it and its outcomes closer to the people.

These are changes which could usher in the sort of great change which might solve many of the problems we have identified. I will warn you now though, reader, that you are extremely unlikely to support any of these three ideas. If you are of an anti-politician disposition, look away now!

The first is that we need an elected second chamber in the Scottish Parliament, as we see in many other democracies across the world. When Holyrood was created, the committee system was thought of as so powerful and so well constructed that there was no need for a legislative revising chamber, such as the UK’s House of Lords or the US Senate. 

That has not materialised. The committee system has been weak and has now long been dominated by the party or parties of government, and which tend to break along constitutional lines, even when they are convened by an MSP from an opposition party.

We have tested to destruction whether this will work. It won’t. We should create an "upper chamber", but one with a twist. It should be populated by members from parties which do not stand for election to the lower house. In other words, new parties would have to be created, which would provide an unbiased check on power, and which would require governments to produce legislation which is so good, so popular, so worthwhile, that it can pass even the most stringent test.

The second change would be to increase the number of MSPs in the lower house. Our 129 members are not numerous enough to do their jobs to their best potential. Many sit on two, even three committees, in addition to a role as a spokesperson for their party, and in addition to membership of several cross-party groups. They have become jacks of all trades and masters of none, and they need to call in backup. There are currently 73 constituency MSPs, and seven from each of the eight parliamentary regions.

We should add a couple to each of those regions, making 72 regional MSPs, for a total of 145. This is not a particularly large influx, but it would be enough to ease the burden, and it may create an added benefit of more diversity in representation from independent MSPs and smaller parties elected through the list system.

Reader, if you are already shaking your head vociferously, get ready. The third step is to pay MSPs more. Much more. MSPs are not badly paid in the grand scheme of ordinary workers, but then MSPs are not ordinary workers. When mapped against what we expect of them, the remuneration is poor. We expect them to be highly intelligent, for starters, and from there we expect them to be expert in a wide range of local and national matters, working, as they do in many cases, 70-80 hours every week. 

We also expect them to have no private life, or at least not the sort they don’t mind being intruded upon at will, and in public. 

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I would double the salary of all MSPs, Ministers, Cabinet Secretaries and the First Minister. If you don’t think our current crop deserve that, you may end up satisfied, because the extra funding is almost certain to encourage the very best of us to present themselves for election.

These pages are not generally given to quotes from Dolly Parton. However, she said “the way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain”, and I cannot think of any sentiment more appropriate for the difficult but necessary job of securing the long-term efficacy of our Scottish Parliament.

Andy Maciver is Founding Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters