THERE are “too many careerists” in the Scottish Parliament and its culture is leading to the “strangling” of debate, a former SNP health secretary has claimed.

Alex Neil, who represented the party at Holyrood for 22 years until stepping down at the 2021 election, was critical of the number of “yes people” surrounding party leaders in the Parliament.

Speaking to the Scottish Sun, Neil argued reforms are needed to improve the quality of debate in the Chamber.

He is currently part of a group made up of former MSPs organised by Professor James Mitchell, investigating how to deliver “radical” improvements to how Holyrood works.

The National: Holyrood chamber interior

“We have very few people in the Parliament, in any of the parties, who (are) prepared to stand up and act independently of their party leadership,” Neil said.

“I think any parliament worthy of the name has to encourage people who are dissenting voices, they’ve got to be given their view.”

Neil praised the nine MSPs who defied the whip during the Gender Recognition Reform Bill vote – saying it wasn’t that he agrees with their position, but was pleased to see them have “the guts to stand up for their principles”.

“There aren’t enough people like that in either parliament - Holyrood or Westminster - too many careerists,” the former MSP said.

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It comes after Tory MSP Stephen Kerr sparked a row by calling for major changes to the Scottish Parliament in an article for The Telegraph.

Kerr angered some colleagues by calling the Chamber “sterile, uninspiring and addicted to conflict”, with SNP MSP Paul McLellan telling the MSP: “Sterile and uninspiring describes the Tories … you are playing to do the Daily Mail gallery only.”

The National: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MAY 12: Stephen Kerr MSP Conservative attends the Scottish Parliament for the first time together as  they meet with the Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh at the Scottish Parliament Building on May 12, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

However Neil intervened to tell Kerr his analysis was “correct”. He tweeted: “All parties, including his and ours, are to blame for it. The founding principles have been abandoned. It needs to be sorted.”

In his interview with the Sun, Neil suggested one way making changes could be ending the speaker list system – in which party whips provide the Presiding Officer with their selection of which politicians should get the opportunity to address the Chamber.

“I would like to see the Presiding Officer tell the party whips to put them where the sun don’t shine and tell them that the Presiding Officer will decide who will speak, when they will speak and how long they’ll speak for.”

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Responding to Kerr’s original criticism, a spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament said: “The Presiding Officer meets regularly with all political parties and her door is always open to any member who wants to discuss how the Parliament is operating.

“Any member can approach the standards and procedures committee with proposals on how to enhance parliamentary procedures.

“The schedule of business in the Chamber is proposed by the parliamentary bureau and subject to the agreement of Parliament as a whole.”