Let’s make the committee more accessible to the people of Scotland
I brought the Scottish Affairs Committee back to life. I want to continue to increase its relevance and credibility, writes Pete Wishart MP
When I was first elected in 2001 as part of a group of five SNP MPs, I never thought it would be possible for an SNP MP to chair a select committee of this House. Following our landslide in 2015 when we became the third party of the House, I became the first SNP MP to be confirmed as a committee chair. With our 47 MPs in this Parliament, the SNP will once again assume the chair of two select committees.
I will therefore be throwing my hat in the ring again to continue to build on the work that has been achieved on the Scottish Affairs Committee and hope to continue to innovate in the way that work is being done.
When I assumed the chair in 2015 the credibility of the committee had never been lower. During the independence referendum the committee inexplicably adopted a position in the debate immediately alienating large parts of Scotland and excluding a number of key stakeholders.
My first job, therefore, was to unite the committee, rebuild its credibility and make it a proper cross-party body of scrutiny, representative of all opinion in the House.
This involved patiently listening to our stakeholders and reassuring them that the Scottish Affairs Committee would be there for all Scotland. It also meant taking the committee around Scotland to engage meaningfully with the people of Scotland and listen to what they wanted from the committee.
“Under my chairmanship nearly all reports have been unanimously agreed”
Four years later and the reputation of the committee could not be higher. It is now seen as a key interface between civic Scotland and Westminster, and through our innovative reports and inquiries it is by far the most reported committee in Scotland.
Having conducted inquiries into fair work, bank closures, Scottish agriculture, oil and gas, problem drug use, and the creative industries, the committee is now an indispensable part of the national debate in Scotland.
In the hothouse of Scottish politics, under my chairmanship nearly all reports have been unanimously agreed and Scottish Affairs is the best attended committee in the House.
I have ensured that at least once a month the committee meets in Scotland for one of its regular sessions. More than that I have ensured that we have regular public engagement events pioneering town hall-type meetings all over the country.
I was also keen to build on relationships with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Affairs Committee became the first committee at Westminster to undertake joint work with committees in the Scottish Parliament when we conducted joint sessions into the transfer of welfare responsibilities to Scotland.
Going forward I want to make the committee more accessible to the people of Scotland by looking at how we engage and acquire our evidence. More will be done with digital engagement and I want to secure proper slots at our evidence sessions to hear from ordinary Scots.
The Scottish Affairs Committee is well and truly back. Under my chairmanship it will continue to increase its relevance and its credibility.
Pete Wishart is SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire