For the first time Greens take places on most Holyrood committees

After each election, Holyrood’s political parties begin a process of haggling over a range of issues, from who gets which office in the MSP block, to the allocation of debating time. One of the most important aspects of this “setting up” phase is the construction of a new committee system. With our increased numbers in Parliament this will be the first time that the Greens take places on the majority of committees.

Some of our committees are set out in the Standing Orders, and cover remits that will always be required. While we can tweak these a little, their basic functions will never disappear. The others, the Subject Committees, are generally set out afresh at the start of each new session and broadly align to ministerial remits. The Government has new responsibilities under the most recent Scotland Act, and likewise the Parliament is creating new committees.

So the appointment of a new Minister for Social Security and a commitment by the Government to create an agency to deliver social security policy means that MSPs will also set up a Social Security Committee. It will have the job of taking evidence on the Government’s proposals, hearing the full range of political views on what’s being done, and holding ministers to their commitments once they start implementing their plans. In a subject area that has so much immediate impact on people’s quality of life it will be vital that scrutiny in this area is robust, but not opportunistic.

The Europe & External Affairs Committee will see its remit expanded to include culture and tourism; this seems like a sensible move, but I hope it doesn’t reduce the focus on building Scotland’s international links. If we’re going to continue on the journey toward independence, we’ll need to ensure that our friends in other countries have a positive view of Scotland’s potential role in the world as a full member of the international community.

The Equal Opportunities Committee also expands its scope, becoming the Equality and Human Rights Committee. There has long been a case for giving an explicit human rights remit to a committee that isn’t principally focused on Justice. Too often the human rights agenda has been seen from a purely legalistic perspective, and it’s good that the new committee won’t be pushed in that direction.

A post-legislative scrutiny function has also been lacking in the past, and that will be given to the Public Audit committee. There’s a strong view across all parties that Parliament should devote more time to looking back at how well (or how badly) new legislation works once it’s in place. Knowing that this will happen may even prevent governments from being tempted to pass legislation merely to send a message, or because – as Yes, Prime Minister fans will recall – “something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it”.

Perhaps the most significant change to a major committee again mirrors a new Cabinet remit; the Finance Committee will become the Finance and Constitution Committee. Responsibility for budgets and other aspects of government finance is a major job in its own right but, in following on from John Swinney, Derek Mackay also becomes the Government’s lead minister on the constitution. With the promise of a summer drive to renew the campaign for independence, he will have a very full diary ahead of him.

I’ve made the case in these pages before – and I’m pleased to say that some SNP voices have expressed a similar view – that the case for independence must be given a breadth and a pluralism that it didn’t always have in 2014. There were times when it seemed that to vote Yes was to back every jot and tittle of SNP policy, and both Yes Scotland and Alex Salmond were guilty of giving this impression. It wasn’t true, of course, and if everyone who had found something to disagree with in the SNP’s White Paper had voted No we’d have gained far less than 45 per cent of the vote.

But, as the Finance Secretary for a minority government, Derek Mackay will need many of the same skills in both aspects of his job. To pass Scottish Budgets, and resolutions to set tax rates, he will need to work with others, reach out and compromise. That’s exactly the inclusive spirit that will be needed in his constitutional role, if he wants to build a stronger, broader case for independence which will succeed in winning over enough reluctant No voters to ensure that when the constitutional question returns it is answered with a decisive Yes.

Green MSPs, and our wider party, look forward to playing our role as constructive critics in the committee system and, in strengthening the pluralistic case for independence, that will deliver the result that’s needed – when the time comes.

This column first appeared in the National newspaper