Scottish Daily Mail

Iron dis­ci­pline of SNP ‘lets Holy­rood min­is­ters off hook’

- By Alan Ro­den Scot­tish Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor­den@dai­ly­

HOLY­ROOD com­mit­tees packed with back­bench Na­tion­al­ist MSPs are fail­ing to hold the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to ac­count, ac­cord­ing to the ar­chi­tect of the new de­vo­lu­tion deal.

Lord Smith of Kelvin yes­ter­day said the Scot­tish par­lia­ment should learn from West­min­ster, where min­is­ters re­ceive tough scru­tiny from MPs.

His com­ments add to grow­ing con­cerns at Holy­rood about the SNP’s iron dis­ci­pline, which op­po­nents ar­gue has al­lowed min­is­te­rial de­ci­sions to go un­chal­lenged.

Na­tion­al­ist MSP John Ma­son re­cently broke ranks to warn that too many back­bench com­mit­tee mem­bers from the party in of­fice can make them ‘sub­servient to gov­ern­ment’.

In re­cent weeks, a com­mit­tee re­fused to take fur­ther ev­i­dence from Cul­ture Sec­re­tary Fiona Hyslop about her de­ci­sion to award a £150,000 tax­payer­funded grant to T in the Park, even though the Au­dit Scot­land watch­dog has de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate the hand-out.

Lord Smith, who chaired the cross­party com­mis­sion that led to the tax and wel­fare pro­pos­als in the new Scot­land Bill, told a Sun­day news­pa­per: ‘You watch the way the scru­tiny works in West­min­ster. It is vi­cious some­times.

‘I’ve ap­peared be­fore a couple of se­lect com­mit­tees. They are un­afraid to chal­lenge. They are knowl­edge­able. We don’t have that at Holy­rood.’

He added: ‘There needs to be bet­ter scru­tiny. The Com­mons se­lect com­mit­tees take their own MPs and beat them around, and rightly so. It doesn’t hap­pen here. I don’t know why.

‘It hasn’t prop­erly been built into the sys­tem. But no­body should be afraid of that. You need chal­lenge.

‘If I was the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer, I would haul in the lead­ers of the par­ties and say some­thing has to change.’

There has been scant crit­i­cism in Holy­rood’s com­mit­tees of do­mes­tic crises in­volv­ing the NHS or po­lice, with many Na­tion­al­ist MSPs thought to be so fo­cused on achiev­ing in­de­pen­dence that they will not do any­thing to put that at risk.

Ear­lier this year, for­mer Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Kenny MacAskill even ad­mit­ted he sup­ported a ‘wrong’ de­ci­sion to op­pose pris­on­ers’ vot­ing rights to ‘avoid any need­less dis­trac­tions in the run-up to the ref­er­en­dum’.

It was never an­tic­i­pated that a party could se­cure a ma­jor­ity at Holy­rood, but the SNP’s elec­tion suc­cess means that it now con­trols most of the par­lia­ment’s com­mit­tees.

Meet­ings at Holy­rood are in stark con­trast to those at West­min­ster, where MPs are will­ing to openly chal­lenge min­is­ters from their own par­ties.

Last year, Labour and Tory mem­bers on the Euro­pean com­mit­tee com­plained they were blocked from pub­lish­ing an orig­i­nal draft and a sep­a­rate ‘mi­nor­ity re­port’.

Na­tion­al­ist MSPs were ac­cused of adopt­ing a ‘cult of obedience and slav­ish­ness’ to the party’s lead­er­ship when the pub­lic au­dit com­mit­tee pub­lished a re­port on po­lice re­form ear­lier in May. Two ver­sions of that re­port were pub­lished – one by the SNP ma­jor­ity and an­other ‘mi­nor­ity re­port’ crit­i­cis­ing the move to a na­tional po­lice force.

A spokesman for the Scot­tish par­lia­ment de­clined to com­ment.

Mean­while, Lord Smith – who re­jects claims the Scot­land Bill does not de­liver his com­mis­sion’s find­ings – has spo­ken about the heart at­tack he suf­fered in Au­gust at a Bute House din­ner with Ni­cola Stur­geon. ‘There was no prior warn­ing, no pain,’ he said. ‘I felt my eyes swim­ming and ap­par­ently I fell straight back. What keeps go­ing through my mind is what might have hap­pened had I been driv­ing home that night or walk­ing in the street.

‘You ap­par­ently have ten min­utes, then you’ve had it – and frankly you don’t want to be re­sus­ci­tated af­ter six min­utes.’

The 71-year-old was saved by a stu­dent nurse work­ing as a wait­ress in the build­ing. A de­fib­ril­la­tor has since been in­stalled at Bute House and min­is­ters have been taught how to use it.

‘Haul in the lead­ers and call for change’

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