Well, another fine mess they’ve got themselves into. The great, historic, momentous legislation to undo centuries of Scots law have hardly left the starting grid and are heading for the crash barriers. Who would have guessed?

Even to the layman, the idea of abandoning juries on the assumption that leaving it to well-educated judges would up the conviction rate sounded like a dubious starting-point from which to proceed. To our finest legal minds, as articulated by Lord Uist, it is not just dubious but “constitutionally repugnant”.

All around the land, our learned friends agree and say they will have nothing to do with an “experiment” in trials without juries in cases involving allegations of rape or attempted rape. Trials in which the liberty of individuals are at stake are not suitable settings for “experiments” driven by the explicit intent of getting more men convicted.

That sounds like a beginner’s course in basic justice. Lord Uist and others have placed it in a more elevated setting by doubting whether it is even within the Scottish Parliament’s competence because it would breach the right to a fair trial as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Already, that seems a difficult bar to clear – or, more probably, retreat from – which takes us to the question of how, repeatedly, the Scottish Government comes forward with high-profile plans for legislation which do not withstand the light of day or, even if they are pushed through Holyrood, subsequently have to be reversed?

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I can’t help linking that question to another piece of information which emerged last week. The Scottish Government is now spending almost £2 million a year on special advisers – political appointees who drive policy and media handling. This has doubled under Nicola Sturgeon and there are now 18 of them at Holyrood.

No matter who is in government or where, special advisers are a breed which should be treated with suspicion and their role kept in check. The greater their number and influence, the higher the likelihood that independent advice from civil servants will be sidelined by these aspirant politicians, driven by short-term diversions and exaggerated belief in their own cleverness.

The useful purpose of a few special advisers should lie in being streetwise enough to protect ministers from bad advice. Instead, they become enforcers, with the power and patronage to silence unwelcome challenge. Civil servants come to know what is good for their careers so they too follow the course of least resistance. Who then is left to warn ministers of pitfalls rather than go along with the top-down consensus? Result: half-baked, headline-hunting initiatives and costly legislation doomed to failure. All of this has developed throughout the years of Salmond-Sturgeon rule but accelerated as Nicola Sturgeon’s decision-making circle grew tighter and more egotistical.

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I don’t know the precise machinations that allowed these legal reforms to enter the public domain but it is already pertinent to ask a couple of related questions. Did anybody undertake the diligence which would have allowed them to advise ministers of the likely boycott of their “experiment” by the legal profession? And did anyone advise them of the ECHR hazard which Lord Uist promptly identified? If not, why not? Where were all these Special Advisers?

It is difficult to imagine the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Angela Constance, having the wherewithal to ask the right questions, any more than her predecessor, Humza Yousaf. Ms Constance is now reduced to platitudes about wanting to work “in a spirit of partnership” with lawyers insisting that “we’re at the beginning of process”. Where did I hear that before? A competent “process” begins long before contentious plans are published, not in response to the resultant outcry.

The demand for more convictions in these cases is political and the justice system cannot flow from that objective. If society rightly demands more convictions, it should put greater resources into investigation and prosecution. The real scandal may well lie in the tiny proportion of alleged offences that ever reach court, rather than the conviction rate once the small minority get there.

Since coming into office, Mr Yousaf has kicked the Deposit Return Scheme down the road and abandoned a ban on advertising alcoholic drinks, right down to baseball caps in visitor centres. If he has any sense, he will do the same with Highly Protected Marine Areas. All of these came out of the same stable – ill-thought through, unworkable and totally lacking in advance intelligence.

As well as fighting day-to-day battles, opposition parties at Holyrood should look at the wider question of how the Scottish Government operates in order to offer something better in terms of competence as well as policy. Reforming the structures of government hardly sounds like a clarion call to the electorate but “doing things better” makes room to insist that it’s not all about more money to spend when so much is squandered.

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I would make an immediate commitment to save £1 million by halving the number of special advisers. It’s sometimes forgotten that a lot of small, useful things can be done with even £1 million but, more important, this should be coupled with a clear assertion that we need a de-politicised civil service which only a change of government enable.

Next, I would halve the number of ministers. It is ludicrous to have 29 of them, plus law officers, in a parliament of 129 MSPs overseeing devolved functions. Fewer might help to align competence more closely with the scale of responsibilities since it is patently obvious that most of the current lot are filling space rather than contributing one iota to the intellectual life of the nation.

How long is it, I heard the question asked the other day, since the Scottish Government came forward with any progressive reform that survived scrutiny long enough to change the lives of ordinary Scots? Nobody could come up with an answer. That’s not about money. It’s about competence – and that is territory on which the SNP’s opponents should relish the fight.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.