SCOTLAND is in a better place now than it was two decades ago when the Scottish Parliament first came into being, according to Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, although he has conceded that 20 years of devolution have not “all been perfect”.

“The modern Scotland we’re in now, it is quite a different Scotland from the one I was brought up (in),” said Macintosh, in an interview with the Press Association to mark the 20th anniversary of the first Holyrood elections on May 6, 1999.

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“I’m not going to pretend the Parliament itself or the politics practised in the Parliament have got the answers but it has definitely changed the face of Scotland.”

Macintosh said the Parliament had become the centre of established civic life in the country: “People follow what is going on here, they know what is going on here, they know their issues will be raised here.”

However, he added: “That doesn’t get round the issue that there are intractable problems or difficulties, and the Parliament doesn’t have all the answers, but you can look at major pieces of legislation and major changes around land reform, free personal care, the smoking ban, as real statements of intent.

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“Pieces of legislation on issues that would not have received attention beforehand at Westminster because it was too difficult to find time and things like the smoking ban where we led the way.”

Macintosh was elected to Holyrood in the first elections in 1999 as the Labour MSP for Eastwood, a seat he held until 2016 when he was ousted by Jackson Carlaw, deputy leader of the Scottish Tories.

He returned to Holyrood via the regional list system representing the west of Scotland area and went on to become the Parliament’s fifth presiding officer.

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Macintosh said he accepts that Holyrood is “not as diverse as the country we represent”, with only 35% of the 2016 intake of MSPs being female – slightly less than the 37% that was achieved in the 1999 election. And in the 20 years of Holyrood’s existence, just four MSPs from a black and ethnic minority (BME) background have been elected.

“We have a big job to do and the Parliament is working with all parties to improve diversity,” said the Presiding Officer.

He said he is also concerned about the “level of aggression, the use of quite violent language” on social media.

Here he wants the Parliament and MSPs to lead by example, and said: “We are already in a time of quite polarised political disputes, I think it really matters that the Parliament can set a good example.”

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“People don’t tend to talk to each other face-to-face like that, it tends to be existing on social media platforms but it is very worrying because it begins to spill over to the public discourse as well.

“If you are always using aggressive, violent language I think there is a danger of that aggression and violence spilling over.”

Macintosh added: “Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, newer even than the Parliament itself, and most politicians are active on social media, young people are certainly, that is the way they get their information.

“We are adjusting to that and there is a really an imperative we take the lead in showing you can’t behave with impunity on social media, you have to establish values and show an example just as you do in other parts of your life.

“As an institution, and as individuals in that institution, MSPs can set an example. I don’t want to lose the passion that gets people into politics in the first place, I just want people to be respectful in the way they express that.”

Meanwhile, Macintosh said Holyrood could follow in the footsteps of Westminster by introducing elected committee conveners after the next Scottish Parliament elections.

He said a proposal for this is already under consideration by members of the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments (SPPA) Committee.

If approved, it could be introduced after the May 2021 elections, he said.

The Commission on Parliamentary Reform has already recommended the change, which could follow the introduction of elected committee chairmen and women in the House of Commons in 2010.

Macintosh said: “It’s before the SPPA Committee right now.

“The idea would be for that particular recommendation. If it gets approved, it wouldn’t be for this current Parliament, it would be the next.”

Macintosh revealed that he never considered standing for elected office before Holyrood was created, but put himself forward in 1999 “without any thought initially that I would become an MSP”.

His first child was born just five days before he was elected. Macintosh said: “I can’t tell you how excited I was. I often use the word euphoria because it was slightly unreal.”