• John Mortimer

Holyrood’s Extended Term Lengths Risk Becoming Another SNP Power Grab

When the Scottish ‘parliament’ was established, its term limits were set at four years. This was consistent with local elections, while five-year terms were reserved for General Elections. Accordingly, devolved elections were held in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. This reflected Holyrood’s status as a devolved and subsidiary arm of the British state in much the same way as any local or regional authority.

Since coming to power in 2007, the SNP have extended Holyrood’s terms to five years in two instances. The first five-year gap between 2011 and 2016 was in order to avoid conflicting with the scheduled 2015 General Election. However, the 2016 parliament was also granted a five-year term, bringing us to the upcoming elections in May 2021. That has nothing to do with Covid; the legislation was passed in the form of the Scottish Election (Dates) Bill in February 2016, marking a shift towards five-year terms as the de-facto norm.

This shift towards five-year terms is another stealth power grab by the SNP, and highlights their pretensions to pitch Holyrood as a rival national parliament to the British parliament in Westminster. Of course, it is not surprising that MSPs should choose to pass legislation granting themselves another guaranteed year in office with cushy salaries and lavish expenses. They want to keep the gravy train rolling on as long as possible.

There is also a serious democratic issue with these arbitrarily extended term lengths. When candidates put themselves forward to the people at a devolved Scottish election, they are in theory seeking a four-year mandate. In this sense, the current SNP Government’s mandate expired in May 2020, and has been exhausted for almost a full twelve months now.

The last UK General Election was held in 2019. The next one is scheduled for 2024. This means that there are no grounds whatsoever to grant the next Scottish ‘parliament’ a five-year term, as its natural four-year expiry in 2025 avoids clashing with both national and local elections. We must not allow five-year terms to become the default, and permit this to become the next devo-power grab by the SNP.

We’ve witnessed far too many power grabs by devocrats over the years: the devolution of the railways in 2005; a host of energy and conservation powers in 2008; the rebranding of the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government in 2007; the Scotland Act 2012; taking police and fire and rescue services out of the hands of local authorities in 2013; the Scotland Act 2016; and now these extended Holyrood term lengths by default.

While it’s important to highlight this ‘mission creep’ and rather undemocratic accrual of power by Holyrood, Abolish the Scottish Parliament Party would rather that we scrap the divisive devolved assembly all together, and that’s why we are contesting all of Scotland this May. Indeed, we’re giving all Scots the first opportunity to vote against devolution since Blair’s 1997 referendum. With all the major parties – both nationalist and unionist – arguing for more powers to be granted to the devolved assembly; only Abolish offer a genuine alternative that is both proudly unionist and firmly anti-devolution.