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‘Holyrood may not have enough MSPs to scrutinise security service’

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Holyrood may not be big enough to give an independent Scotland’s intelligence service the scrutiny required, according to a new report.

Academics said with only 129 MSPs, the Scottish Parliament already struggles to fill its committees.

Independence would create new policy areas requiring scrutiny and oversight, including intelligence and security, they said.

“Simply put there may not be enough MSPs to go around,” they said.

A briefing from Edinburgh University identified three main challenges for an independent Scotland.

Along with the shortage of MSPs, a second problem was that those in office “lack expertise in security and intelligence matters”, it said, which would make it difficult for them to ask the right questions.

An independent Scotland would likely work closely with the UK’s existing security and intelligence services, they said.

The briefing said given the difference in size and capability between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, it may be difficult for MSPs to hold the UK intelligence agencies to account in their interactions with Scotland.

The briefing raised questions about the ability of the Scottish Parliament to act as a check on the security services.

“There is little culture of the Scottish Parliament acting as a constitutional check and balance to the executive. Rather, it acts to enable and legitimise the Scottish Government,” it said.

“The Scottish Parliament committees rarely act against the government’s interests.”

The independence white paper proposes to set up a single security and intelligence service. There are no plans to increase the number of MSPs beyond the existing 129.

The academics concluded that if unchanged, the current configuration of the Scottish Parliament and its “rather subservient relationship to the executive may compound general difficulties posed by democratic oversight of secretive intelligence and security services”.

A possible solution could be based on the Norwegian, Dutch or Belgian model with a committee of non-parliamentary experts, appointed and accountable to parliament, they said.

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