Uncertain exactly what to expect, I took my seat in the Holyrood public gallery on Wednesday for my first live Scottish parliamentary debate, prosaically listed as motion S3M-6168. To you and me, the conclusion of stage 1 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill. I left the main chamber two hours later reassured by a cross-party vote of confidence in the Society – and clear that parliamentarians shared all our hopes that a way forward was needed on alternative business structures.
The minister responsible for the bill, Fergus Ewing, set the tone when he opened the debate by acknowledging the Society’s positive contribution to the legislative process, while also noting that at times a constructive discussion risked turning into an “unedifying stramash”. In further exchanges, MSPs from across the political spectrum recognised our respect for democratic processes, the various attempts we have made to gather the views of solicitors, the quality of our evidence and the role the Society has played in putting forward amendments, for instance in relation to the independence of the profession.
A couple of contributors highlighted support for our dual regulatory and representative role, also drawing attention to the decisive vote in the recent referendum in favour of the Society applying to be a regulator of ABSs if they are introduced.
The reference to the Society experiencing a “torrid” time as people got to grips with the bill was also no understatement. It has been difficult for our members to reach a unifying settled will on ABS but it has also been an unsettling time for our staff. This has proved hard work for us all, but we have remained committed to engaging with our members at every opportunity and finding common ground where possible.
Bearing that in mind, perhaps the last word should go to Justice Committee Convener Bill Aitken. In both recognising the sincere differences within the profession and urging a spirit of compromise and conciliation, he paid tribute to Society President Ian Smart for putting his head above the parapet in providing leadership to the profession.
I second that motion.Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland