As expected, the question of greater interest in the new session of the Scottish Parliament will be the content of the Government’s programme, rather than its political makeup – notwithstanding that the SNP no longer quite has an overall majority.
But the loss of that majority should also make it easier to have what many have felt to be a be a necessary discussion about the role of the Parliament, and in particular its committees. While descriptions of Scotland as a “one party state”, as some people glibly termed the era of majority rule, are well wide of the mark, if there is to be a proper balance between the legislative and executive branches of our devolved governance, Holyrood committees must be prepared to engage in more robust scrutiny of Government policies and decisions than was seen on occasion in the last Parliament.
Substantial concerns, for instance, have been raised over a bill in a stage 1 report, only for committee members quietly to toe the party line when it came to voting on amendments later.
The question assumes greater significance as Holyrood takes on yet further powers under the new Scotland Act. Despite that, bringing about effective change would have been far from easy if the party of Government effectively controlled the chamber, and it is to be hoped that a more consensual approach will now be adopted.
To her credit, the Presiding Officer in the last Parliament asked for the system to be reviewed, and a report in January by the Standards etc Committee did present a number of proposals for reform – though it is doubtful whether any of these would in themselves lead to more independent parliamentary scrutiny.
Whether a system can be put in place that would continue to ensure a strong committee system even in the event of any future return to majority government remains to be seen, but the newly elected Parliament would do the country a great service if it were able to assert itself along the lines of those Westminster committees that manage to operate across party affiliations.
On a different note of interest to lawyers, the recent report did suggest that its proposals might enable committees to find time to review after it comes into force the operation of legislation passed by the Parliament, something always envisaged but never yet found possible. That would also mean taking a non-partisan view when necessary.
The question of how to hold the Government sufficiently to account is likely to remain a live one.
With this month's elections out of the way, the volume, if not necessarily the quality, of debate surrounding the EU referendum is likely to rise sharply. For this month's issue the Journal invited two leading lawyers to put the respective cases for Remain and Leave, and we are pleased to be able to present their constructive thoughts on the subject.
Of course, for many voters it will be a question of whose predictions do they believe, and we will only ever be able to test the accuracy of those for the winning side. So we hope at least that the values put forward, rather than some of the more wishful thinking on offer, will carry weight in the end.