COVID-19 and the climate crisis dominated MSPs’ questions in Holyrood during last year’s parliamentary term, the Sunday National can reveal.

MSPs asked 704 questions between September and December 2021, with 450 being asked by members of the opposition.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic and its related issues were at the heart of discussions, but a deep dive into the specifics of what each party asked reveals some interesting things about Scotland’s opposition, and what we can expect from the next parliamentary term – beginning tomorrow.

Analysis covers questions asked during FMQs, ministerial portfolio questions, general and topical questions, but does not cover debates, motions, ministerial statements or interventions during those discussions.


THE Tories like to place themselves as the party of law and order in Scotland, and they certainly tried to push that narrative during last Holyrood term, with a focus on issues such as scrapping the Not Proven verdict and the Victim Notification Scheme. But when it comes to Covid-19, the Tories asked nine questions relating to vaccine passports, five on booster vaccines, and three on vaccine trial volunteers. The Tories were in a bit of a sticky position last term when it came to health issues relating to the pandemic – hampered by Tory PM Boris Johnson’s actions in England. This was also clear at FMQs, with Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross asking about vaccine passports twice, but ambulance waiting times on three occasions. Overall, the Tories, including Ross during one FMQs, asked about booster vaccines on five occasions, but they also asked about mental health related issues on eight separate occasions.


THE Tories have a hard time walking the line in Holyrood, with the constant threat of being undermined by Westminster Tories. In fact, Ross was forced to vote against vaccine passports (or Plan B) in the Commons because he’d spent so much of the term arguing against them in Scotland. This is something we will see bleed into this year, as Johnson’s England becomes an outlier compared to the devolved nations of the UK. He will no doubt play into the right-wing hands of his party by refusing to bring in further Covid restrictions – and in the process make life ten times more difficult for the Scottish arm of the party.


LABOUR may have less MSPs than the Tories, but they have much more leeway for taking on the SNP and holding them to account – particularly on health. Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar asked about contamination and management issues at the QEU Hospital on five separate occasions. Arguably, Labour’s insistence on keeping the pressure on this issue led to FMQs running for 59 minutes on December 2 as the FM and Sarwar clashed over the issue. The board may not have been sacked in the end, but arguably the story cut through anything the Tories brought to the table. Aside from health, the most popular topics among Labour MSPs were ferries, employment, COP26 and funding for the arts – of which they asked four questions on each topic.


WITH the Greens now in government, Scottish Labour are plugging the gap on questions relating to the environment, and this is something that will continue into the next term. On health, they are in a better position than their Tory counterparts to challenge the SNP, but on the increasing number of drug deaths – it won’t be so easy. With UK Labour leader Keir Starmer ruling out any softening of drugs policy, and Scotland travelling in the opposite direction (with even Ross accepting drug consumption rooms would be a benefit) this could cause issues for them in the long run.


WITH only four MSPs, the LibDems only asked 36 questions during the last term under our analysis. Of those, they asked about violence against women on three occasions, which is unsurprising after the death of Sarah Everard dominated the public consciousness last year. Other topics they asked about on two occasions were; vaccine certification, to which the party is opposed on medical privacy grounds, long Covid and ferry services.


OVERALL, the LibDems asked topics on a wide range of issues, and this shows that they haven’t quite found their footing under new leader Alex Cole-Hamilton. Compared to the Tories and Labour, who have clear attack lines and consistency on some issues, the LibDems don’t appear to have this in place yet.


AS they are now part of the Scottish Government for the first time, due to the SNP-Green co-operation deal, the Greens technically don’t count as an opposition party. However, it’s still interesting to see what types of things their MSPs have been asking about. MSPs asked about the issue of oil and gas in the north sea and a just transition for workers on four occasions, and about COP26 on three occasions. Although the Tories made a lot of noise about the SNP and Greens “abandoning” workers in those industries, according to our analysis, the Greens were actually the party who were most concerned about it.


THE Greens are still very green. It will be interesting to watch over the next term where they focus their efforts, but issues relating to the climate and the north sea will be at the forefront. Expect a lot more clashes with the Tories as the north sea becomes a battleground issue.

Just the one question on indyref planning

The National: Kenneth Gibson

ONLY one question about preparations for a second independence referendum was asked in the previous Holyrood term.

Our analysis found that only one MSP asked the Scottish Government about planning for indyref2, which is due to be held in 2023, according to the First Minister.

Kenneth Gibson (above), SNP MSP for Cunninghame North, asked Cabinet Secretary for Constitution and Culture Angus Robertson about forward planning for the constitutional vote on December 16. 

Although some questions referenced independence or Scotland’s need for it, Gibson’s was the only one to address what is going on behind the scenes.

Robertson reiterated what the First Minister said during the launch of the Programme for Government in September 2021; that the government will work towards it being held in the first half of the parliamentary term (2023), Covid permitting.

He added: “Since the announcement in the PFG, work has begun to scope what will be required to take that commitment forward.”

Gibson added: “Although independence supporters understand the need to wait until we
are clear of Covid, the ineptitude of the UK’s Government ... have increased the urgency of Scotland’s need to re-emerge as an independent, sovereign state. 

“Will the cabinet secretary commit to making a statement to Parliament, as soon as we are through the pandemic?”

Robertson said he would be “happy” to make a statement, adding: “The case for independence is a strong one, and this Government will present it openly, frankly and with confidence and ambition. An independent Scotland would have the power to make different choices, including about how we manage public health challenges with different budgetary options, and it could make the choices that are best suited to Scotland’s interests.”

It is understood that preparations for a new series of white papers which would set out the case for an independent Scotland are at the early stages. 

In Numbers: What MSPs asked in Holyrood

OUR analysis charted MSPs questions to the Scottish Government and it’s ministers – lets take a look at the numbers. 

How many questions did each party ask?

The SNP asked 254, the Tory party asked 213, Labour asked 169, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens both asked 34.

Which session was the most popular?

FMQs by a long stretch – MSPs asked the First Minister 196 separate queries over the past term. There were 132 issues put to the Scottish Government at General Questions, held weekly, but the most popular portfolio session was for the Covid-19 recovery department, headed by John Swinney, who answered 40 queries. Health and social care (39), Justice (38), Finance and Economy (38) and Net Zero, Energy and Transport (37), also came under scrutiny.

What were MSPs asking about the most?

There were 18 questions from MSPs on both Covid-19 recovery related issues and COP26. Overall, there were 77 questions relating to the pandemic, vaccines and related issues, and 55 questions asked about climate targets, COP26 and the oil and gas industry, across all parties.

Who asked the most questions?

Tory MSP Jamie Greene asked 19 questions. He was followed by Scottish Labour MSP Pauline McNeill who asked 16 questions. Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar, both asked 15 questions at FMQs, and SNP MSP Emma Harper who also asked 15 questions. Fellow SNP representatives Jim Fairlie and Bill Kidd were next on the list, asking 13 questions in total. 

Who didn’t ask any questions?

Out of the 129 MSPs, 10 are Cabinet Secretaries and 16 are government ministers, so did not ask any questions. Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone gave up her party affiliation to the Greens to take on the role, so doesn’t partake in questions as she is generally chairing the session. Of the remaining 102, four MSPs did not ask questions – Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw, and SNP MSPs Fergus Ewing, Natalie Don, and Ruth Maguire. Maguire did not attend Holyrood last term as she was receiving treatment for stage three cervical cancer, but is set to return for the coming term.