Legal powers await winner of presiding officer election


Candidates seeking top parliament job have influence over law passed by parliament

LEADING LABOUR AND TORY MSPs are in the running for the job of presiding officer, which will be elected by new MSPs in parliament tomorrow [Thursday 12 May].

Labour MSPs Johann Lamont and Ken MacIntosh have announced they are seeking election, alongside Tory MSP John Scott.

The presiding officer chairs sessions of parliament, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, and the Parliamentary Bureau. The post also wields considerable influence in the legal affairs of the parliament.

The presiding officer’s legal team consider draft legislation and whether it sits within the ‘legislative competence’ of the parliament. This involves considering – alongside other legal advisory groups – whether draft legislation meets requirements of the Scotland Acts and the European Convention on Human Rights.

One of the more controversial legal decisions by the current presiding officer, Tricia Marwick, was to reject attempts by the parliament to request a ‘legislative competence motion’ (LCM) for Westminster’s anti-Trade Union Bill.

An LCM would have raised legal doubts over whether Westminster has the legal power to interfere in certain aspects of employment law in Scotland, such as the status of public sector contracts negotiated by Holyrood.

This dispute, one of many of the private discussions of legal advice that surrounds the parliamentary process, led to angry exchanges in the chamber when Labour MSP James Kelly challenged the presiding officer’s authority on the decision.

However, the main public focus on the presiding officer role falls mainly on ceremonial duties and representing the parliament.

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Picture courtesy of Queen’s University