Thu 14 Oct 2021

Session 6 gets underway as the Scottish Parliament is formally opened

The Sixth Session of the Scottish Parliament is now well and truly under way. The Queen brought her Crown to Holyrood and opened the Session formally with most of the due pomp we anticipate in an almost post-Covid world. Every Session of Parliament is unique with its own challenges, personalities and desired outcomes but this one has more than its fair share of “known unknowns”.

It started with the election itself. The last Session ended with the Committee hearing on who knew what and when about the subject matter of allegations covered by the various investigations into claims around aspects of Mr Salmond’s conduct during his time as First Minister and as leader of the SNP. This exposed issues which some saw as going to the heart of how government operated in the widest sense. However, despite concerns, the SNP did well in the election even if they were left without an overall majority. The Alba Party led by Mr Salmond did not dent SNP votes particularly, although they had different view about how to achieve Scottish Independence and what kind of mandate a vote for either party meant in the long run.

This has led to an Agreement with the Greens which gives the SNP Government a more comfortable majority in any votes related to a further Independence Referendum and in relation to much other business. This is different we are told from the Labour/Lib Dem Coalition of the early years of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament is nothing if not radical in how it operates its politics. It is too early to see or predict how this will work in practice. The Greens have set out the areas where they will agree to differ with the Government and it remains to be seen how discussions arising from those areas of dispute will affect the relationship. The outcome of the review on the upgrading of the A96 road between Inverness and Aberdeen which is Government policy but is opposed by the Greens may be one of the early practical tests. Implementation and operation of the snappily t titled UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act will be another interesting example to look out for. New ministers with responsibilities, and no doubt high expectation of being able to achieve their desired outcomes, will have to negotiate their way through established SNP Government policy areas and civil servants perhaps used to a different style of policy development.

The UK and Scotland are beginning to dream beyond Covid to recovery in the wider economy and civil society even if that still poses huge challenges. We have a new legislative programme which in itself is not going to do all the heavy lifting necessary. We also have what some lawyers see as bad habits emerging in how Government operates. The UK Government provided the UK Parliament with virtually no time to discuss Covid legislation before it was made and took effect which, even accepting a need for speed on occasions, is an undesirable situation, if our elected representatives are bypassed and the citizen has no idea what the law is at any particular time.  As we move into the recovery phase following the pandemic, many constitutional lawyers and others will wish to see a return to the previous pace of working, with more time for Parliament to scrutinise legislation. 

The past 2 years have taught us that nothing is predictable.  We will have to wait and see exactly what the Sixth Session of the Scottish Parliament brings.

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