Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:03 pm on 12th January 2006.

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Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 2:03 pm, 12th January 2006

Electing the Parliament's corporate body is a duty incumbent on the 129 MSPs who comprise the Parliament. The SPCB acts in the name of that electorate to preserve and promote the Parliament's good name and the ethos that is enshrined in our mace. The SPCB should be guided by those four principles in managing the Parliament's affairs—other than Executive business and the opposition to that from our other political parties and representatives—but it is not, nor should it be, one of the Parliament's party-political forums.

When I expressed that view to colleagues in all parties and in none yesterday, the vast majority agreed with me—perhaps some were only being nice—but some people ventured the opinion that, as in the case of the Subordinate Legislation Committee, an SPCB member who is a willing volunteer will be better than one who is a pressed man or woman. However, a few colleagues thought that the SPCB should be comprised of members of the four biggest parties. I respect those colleagues as politicians and I even like them as people, but I fail to see why only their party's representatives can take decisions of a non-partisan nature on behalf of the whole Parliament.

Most decisions and votes in the Parliament will be taken along party-political lines. Those will be based sometimes on ideology but more often on manifesto commitments. That is the nature of our parliamentary democracy and I take no issue with it. Business needs to be organised in an orderly manner and the electorate's wishes should be respected.

However, the Parliament as an institution is not the preserve of whichever party wins the election; it has to be cherished, protected and allowed to evolve and develop in sympathy with the people who send us here and trust us to strive to organise our business, unhindered—as far as possible—by the different priorities and concerns of competing political parties. We should take some decisions as parliamentarians rather than as MSPs who represent political parties, and this is one such decision.

The Scotland Act 1998 currently binds us to having only four elected members of the SPCB. That is one of the matters that we might expect to be changed when the act is amended to meet more sensitively the needs of the Parliament. However, I do not consider that a priority because I believe that even within the current statutory framework there are ways open to us through which we could improve the level of ownership of the SPCB by all MSPs.

The lines of communication between the SPCB and MSPs and, subsequently, the quality of the SPCB's stewardship of parliamentary affairs could be improved. At present, the only formal communication between the corporate body and the back benches occurs in infrequent question-and-answer sessions in the chamber. I propose a more continuous flow of information both ways—particularly when decisions have to be taken that will reverberate outside the Parliament and for which, theoretically and certainly in the eyes of the public, we are all responsible. The decision on the provision of a smoking facility is one example that springs to mind. If the SPCB had invited MSPs to attend its meetings on an observer or advisory basis, depending on the issues under discussion, perhaps there might have been more accurate and sensitive reporting of Scottish Green Party members' expenses.

I have a number of other ideas for improving the transparency and communication of the work undertaken in our name by the SPCB. I will discuss those with colleagues if I am elected. However, I assure them that if I am elected, I will ask for a recount.