EMERGENCY legislation brought in by the Scottish Government in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic does not contain the necessary checks and balances needed for scrutiny, a former first minister has claimed.
Jack McConnell said the “original vision of a new kind of parliament” envisaged for Scotland when Holyrood was established “seems to have lost its way”.
While he accepted that “emergency powers were needed by ministers” when the pandemic hit in March, he added: “The Scottish legislation does not contain all the checks needed for opposition to scrutinise and question ministers’ decisions, and MSPs have few opportunities to speak up for their worried constituents.”
His comments came has he gave the Donald Dewar memorial lecture at Glasgow University, 20 years on from the death of Scotland’s first first minister.
The former first minister of Scotland also described the membership numbers of the House of Lords as an “international embarrassment for the United Kingdom”.
Despite being made a life peer in 2010, McConnell said he finds it “regularly embarrassing to be a member of a house that has now over 800 members”.
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Lord McConnell, who was first minister between 2001 and 2007, went on to suggest some controversies might have been avoided if the Scottish Parliament had been “more engaged” in making decisions.
He stated: “The dithering over reopening schools and the exams results fiasco might have been avoided with Parliament more engaged in the decisions, and perhaps some of the inconsistency in local lockdown restrictions and some of the anger and frustration from businesses, patients and others about not being heard might be avoided too.
“Consent is precious and should not be taken for granted.”
Six months on from the initial lockdown, he said there were “lessons to be learned in tackling the pandemic in Edinburgh and in London”.
And he added there was also “a huge job to be done to build back better and to help the economy, our businesses and families recover”.
Here he called for the Scottish and UK Governments to work together more to tackling “rising child poverty” in Scotland.
Policies brought in by the first Labour-led Scottish Executive “made a real difference to the level of child poverty in Glasgow and across Scotland”, he claimed.
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But he went on to state: “Unfortunately child poverty has now steadily increased since the year before the independence referendum, with annual increases now resulting in one quarter of kids in Scotland living in relative poverty.”
Lord McConnell demanded: “In order to tackle rising child poverty, pride and partisan politics should be set aside.
“The two governments should come together in a concerted effort to take the radical economic and social measures that will see child poverty reduced in Scotland again.”
Earlier today, MSPs unanimously backed the Scottish Government’s motion explaining the new coronavirus restrictions and their justification following a debate on Covid-19.
A Scottish Conservative amendment asking for more support for the hospitality sector was accepted, along with a Scottish Green amendment stressing the importance of test and trace, and routine testing, and one from the Scottish Lib Dems calling for an updated coronavirus routemap.