FOR my sins, one of my duties at Westminster is to speak on matters to do with the House of Lords.

It’s not an arduous task. In everything they do, their Lordships make the case for their own demise. Usually, when asked for comment on their latest shenanigans, I’m kicking at an open goal.

It’s not immediately apparent what role the Lords play in the governance of Scotland. Many folk will think not much. Yet the unelected Lords have more say than the 129 elected members of the Scottish Parliament when it comes to things that affect our everyday lives – from leaving the EU to the minimum wage.

The House of Lords is the second-biggest legislative chamber in the world after the Chinese National People’s Congress. It is the only one apart from Iran where clerics have automatic representation. Its existence means that in Westminster, oft mistakenly cited as the mother of parliaments, most legislators are not elected by or accountable to anyone. It is in short, an affront to democracy. It ought to be abolished.

But let’s play a game. You see some people claim that it’s a good thing that most of our parliamentarians are appointed. It means they are not beholden to anyone and can take a technocratic, dispassionate view on the key public policy questions facing society.

Suspending for a moment the obvious democratic objections, for this to be true it would surely have to be the case that the Lords in some way reflected the population they were supposedly serving. Okay, not elected, but more or less people like me and you. Like a big jury maybe?

So, let’s have a look at them, shall we?

Next week, I publish a report on the Scottish contingent in the upper chamber of the Westminster Parliament. It makes grim reading for advocates of democracy.

In general, the House of Lords neither represents nor is it representative of British society. But when it comes to Scotland, this is the case with knobs on.

Now, since none of them actually represent anywhere, it’s a moot point to talk about Scottish Lords, as opposed to English or Welsh ones. It’s not an exact science but we have identified about 10% of the chamber who might be said to be Scottish or associated with Scotland.

Some were well-kent faces in their day. Since in part, the Lords is a retirement community for former Unionist MPs, you’ll recognise the likes of George Foulkes, Jim Wallace or Michael Forsyth. It offers an opportunity for these pals of yore to keep in touch with their mates, maintain some connection with the body politic, and all without anyone obliging them to actually do anything.

Others are less well known and have a more tenuous claim to represent a Scottish interest. When we add up all of those who used to have an elected position, those who live in Scotland, those who have made their career here and the few with a hereditary position, we get a bunch of 78 people. We had a look at who they are in more detail. The conclusions will alarm but probably not surprise you.

First off, let’s look at party affiliation. The party breakdown in Westminster’s unelected second chamber bears no comparison to their representation in the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament or local government.

The SNP has never nominated anyone to the Lords on principle. The party simply do not believe in unelected legislatures, and we have no compunction to legitimise this undemocratic spectacle by our participation. So, you might say, and many do, that it’s our own fault there’s no SNP representation in the Lords. Fair enough. It is.

But explain why more than a third of Scotland’s peers are Tories, despite them only commanding the support of between a sixth and a quarter of the population.

In fairness, Labour and the LibDems are grossly overrepresented too. In each case, their share of Scotland’s peers is far greater than their share of the House of Commons.

Even more interesting than how the place is stacked via party affiliation is the question of which Scottish Lords support independence, a topic still at the heart of our political discourse, nine years after Scotland first voted on this question.

The Scottish electorate voted no to independence in 2014, by a margin of 55% to 45%. Opinion has remained evenly divided ever since. Sometimes above, sometimes below, but consistently around half the population believe this should be an independent country.

Guess how many members of the House of Lords believe that too? No, it’s not a trick question. The answer is none. Nada. Zilch. Rien. And this is not something that can be explained by the SNP’s refusal to nominate members to the Lords because less than half of all nominations come from political parties.

Much is made of how the Lords contains people who have nothing to do with politics. Those who have excelled in their chosen fields, be it arts, sport, science or whatever. Well then, how can it be that not a single one of them might support a position held by half the population? After all, there are lots of indy supporters amongst sportspeople, scientists, and artistic types. It’s almost as if there’s a hidden hand at work, safeguarding the Unionist monolith that the upper chamber has become.

Within the entire upper chamber, only one peer has publicly supported Scotland’s right to choose its own future. During a debate in the House of Lords in July 2022, Green Party of England and Wales peer Baroness Bennett called out Unionist Lords for denying Scotland’s democratic mandate to carry out another independence referendum. And she explicitly has no connection with Scotland!

So Scottish lords in no way represent the views of the people in Scotland. But they don’t reflect who we are either.

Women comprise around 51% of the Scottish population – they make up just 22% of Scottish peers. Up until 1958, it was illegal for women to even be members of the House of Lords, so admittedly, there’s a historical legacy, but every prime minister since then has appointed more men than women.

If the House of Lords were solely inhabited by Scottish peers, the crimson benches would rank in joint 56 out of 77 second chambers globally for female representation. It’s pretty poor.

Also, they are getting on a bit.

The vast majority of Scottish peers (68%) are aged 65 or over. Only about 20% of the Scottish population fall within that age bracket. In contrast, only 9% of Scottish MPs are aged 65 or over.

And they are posh. More than 95% of children in Scotland go to a non-selective state school, yet only a third of the Scottish Lords did so. More than half went to elite private schools. Now, you don’t have to have gone to a state school to want to see the sector better funded but it must surely help.

There’s more in the report if you get a chance to look, especially about how much this undemocratic edifice is costing us.

Most of all, though, it illustrates one of the big issues at the coming election. Do we want to continue with this embarrassment of privilege, part of an archaic British constitution no longer fit for purpose? Or do we want to continue Scotland’s journey to self-government, becoming a modern thriving democracy, with a written democratic constitution?