THE early months of the Scottish Parliament after it reconvened in May 1999 were busy ones for the rookie parliamentary business managers.

Although the initial standing orders had been drawn up by the Constitutional Steering Group, it fell to the business managers to establish the procedures and processes to make them work.

Those founding members of the first Parliamentary Bureau were Labour’s Tom McCabe, the Tories’ James Douglas Hamilton, Liberal Democrat Iain Smith plus me from the SNP.

Tom McCabe was a man you could do business with. He and I both wanted to see a modern parliament put in place but he was the more experienced fixer, with formidable skills honed in Lanarkshire local government. I had an enjoyable year or so working with, and learning from, him.

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One of the first things we were able to do was ensure that there would be no flummery in our proceedings. No wigs and gowns, no processions with the mace, no voting lobbies and no artificiality in how members addressed each other.

We did not reject being like Westminster just to be different, we rejected it because our new parliament had to be understandable as well as accessible. Everyone needed to know what we were doing and why.

Slowly that happened, but such work is never done. The need for continuous improvement in the way we work applies as much today as it did 21 years ago. With hindsight we should have pressed forward more quickly before the coronavirus struck because we still do not quite have in place an effective remote voting system (though it is getting closer) although our online committee and plenary sessions are developing well.

I was able to give evidence to a committee, deliver a complete parliamentary statement and take questions on both last Wednesday, all whilst at my desk at home in Glendaruel.

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The systems will be even better when work on Scotland’s fast broadband network is completed – particularly in the most rural areas – though much progress has been and is being made.

But remote participation is not just for emergencies. It should be an integral part of how we do 21st-century democracy.

As a society we need to understand that to be working you do not have to be “at your work” as the old phrase has it. The Scottish Parliament now seems committed to being in the vanguard of that change, with an open approach to digital as opposed to physical attendance in every part of its activity and at all times.

There are other changes we still need. We must strengthen the hand of committees and their conveners, increase the resource available to individual members to allow better scrutiny and focus the workload so that backbencher time and talent is not spread too thinly. Although I will not be there to see it, I hope that such important work is brought to fruition in the next session.

Every democratic legislature in the world is modernising, but only one appears to be so stuck in the past that it sees progress as orchestrating chaotic kilometre-long queues stretching outside not just the debating chamber but the building itself.

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When I visited the Lok Sabha in New Delhi almost 20 years ago they had already instituted electronic voting – with two buttons for each member to guard against abuse.

But apparently such new-fangled gimmicks are not good enough for the self-styled Mother of Parliaments because, according to Jacob Rees-Mogg, the best way to conduct democracy is to be confined in a narrow corridor with government ministers for lengthy periods of time, so that they can be importuned by elected representatives.

Most would call that archaic elitist cronyism but apparently that is how democracy needs to be done in 21st-century England, even if it puts the lives of members and staff at risk.

A failure to separate the important from the irrelevant is a key skill in politics. Neither Rees-Mogg nor any of his supporters appear to have it because where legislators vote is not nearly as important as the subjects on which they vote, and matey lapel grabbing isn’t the same thing as effective representation.

I think the Scottish Parliament still has a way to go to live up to its potential. But compared to Westminster it is a beacon of the best modern democratic practice and, in its progressive approach to how it does business, a standing rebuke to its decrepit and shambolic sister by the Thames.