Labour’s Anas Sarwar is proposing a new commission to “clean up” Holyrood – which would include an independent ethics commissioner to oversee the work of the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Labour leader says changes are needed to help restore “faith and trust in our democracy and faith and trust in our Parliament”.
His plea comes after questions were raised about Holyrood’s ability to hold the Scottish Government to account, as MSPs attempted to investigate the mishandling of sexual harassment complaints made against former first minister Alex Salmond.
The fall-out between Mr Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon was played out before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.
Mr Sarwar said: “We are rightly proud of our role in establishing a devolved parliament, but we have to accept that trust and faith in Parliament has been lost in recent years.
“We need to rebuild that because only when people believe that Holyrood works for them will we be able to unite Scotland.”
He insisted the “circus” that had resulted from Mr Salmond’s new Alba Party entering the Scottish Parliament elections could not define the campaign in the run up to the May 6 vote.
And he said MSPs could not allow the “institutional failures that defined the Salmond inquiry to run over into the Parliament of the next five years.”
Mr Sarwar insisted: “Scotland deserves so much better than a Parliament where egos, agenda and grudges are allowed to run rampant.”
As well as proposing a “Clean Up Holyrood Commission” that would consult on how to improve the Scottish Parliament, Mr Sarwar supports the establishment of an independent ethics commission to oversee the Scottish Government.
As part of that effort towards “rebuilding trust in our politics”, he also wants to see Holyrood have elected committee conveners – as happens in the House of Commons.
Mr Sarwar further argued that that MSPs should be covered by parliamentary privilege and given whistle-blower status if they need to speak out and raise key issues.
Parliamentary privilege in Westminster gives politicians there legal protection against prosecution when carrying out their job.
But Mr Sarwar said when he raised the case of schoolgirl Milly Main, who died after contracting an infection while being treated for cancer in a Glasgow hospital, he did so without such protection.
Speaking to members of the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists Association, Mr Sarwar said: “I actually didn’t have either parliamentary privilege or whistle-blower status when I stood up in Parliament and shared the case of Millie Main, so I had no legal protection to do that.
“But it was the right thing to do, and that was why I was willing to risk not having privilege, not having whistle-blower status, because I believed it was important for us to get transparency and justice for families across the country.
“For all kinds of cases like that we should have the power for MSPs to raise those important issues.”
He continued: “I want us to elect our conveners in the Scottish Parliament, so we can have much more independent committees, so it is focused on accountability and transparency, not the pressure of those party whips.
“I want to strengthen the roles of those committees so that committees can compel witnesses to appear, and can summon witnesses to give either written evidence, public evidence or private evidence, similar to what Westminster committees currently do.”
As well as calling for Freedom Information legislation to be reformed, he said there was “undoubtedly the case for splitting the role of the Lord Advocate, so we have a separate chief legal adviser to the Scottish Government and a separate leader of prosecutions in Scotland”.
Mr Sarwar said action in these areas was necessary because in recent weeks “I think people will have felt their Parliament wasn’t working for them”.
He added: “All of this is designed specifically so we can rebuild faith and trust in our institutions, faith and trust in our democracy and faith and trust in our Parliament.”
An SNP spokesman said: “The SNP will always consider proposals to strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament, however Anas Sarwar should be careful not to do the Tories’ dirty work for them.
“Holyrood is already an open parliament compared to Westminster, which is currently engulfed in Tory sleaze, and Scotland already has the most far-reaching freedom of information laws in the UK – but we will always be open to looking at how public life here can be made even more transparent.”
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