AFTER the otherworldly calm and solemnity of a state funeral at the start of the week, there is noise and screeching policy comes back rudely and unwelcome. After the country has been united, in a strange reminder of what serves to unite, we will descend again into the rancor and strife of what passes for our worthless politics, the tired grievances full of sound and fury that mean – for the most part – nothing.

Before the start of the new political term, Holyrood was interrupted by the shock of this news, almost two weeks ago, from Balmoral, the theme started to emerge. The theme is that not everything was good – that everything was not as it should be. Yes, the MSPs were returning after a long summer absence, but returning to do what? Turn to the parliament to achieve what, to make what changes, to solve what pressing problems of society?

We all know that the population is most concerned about the cost of living crisis. But there was an impression over the summer that it was to be fixed by Westminster – that it would be the No. 1 test for new Prime Minister Liz Truss and her team. So it is. But in the meantime, what is Holyrood for?

We all know that the Scottish Government’s main concern is to continue the case for independence. But during the summer, word began to arrive that it was now in the hands of the Supreme court, the Scottish Government’s own legal team sent it there to park it, with no way to make progress until the judges give a ruling. It won’t be in a few months – they haven’t even considered the case and decided it yet. Meanwhile, what is Holyrood for?

Many people ask this question, and no one has more authority than Professor James Mitchell, Scotland’s leading political scientist. Professor Mitchell wrote and worried Politics of Scotland a very long time. He can remember life before devolution. He remembers what the delegation was created to solve. He remembers the promise that devolution heralds a new kind of politics, even a new kind of parliament. And now he looks at it all, scratches the back of his professorial head and wonders aloud what Holyrood is for?

Because it doesn’t do anything useful. Our national parliament is not channeling our national resources to bring energy and understanding, wisdom and intelligence to our country’s problems. The NHS is struggling. School slides. The economy wobbles. Growth is thrown in the opposite direction. Investments are melting away. The infrastructure will move.

Holyrood is a parliament that has broken a promise. A quarter of a century has passed since devolution began, and it is clear that it has not delivered results: our schools are poorer, our society is more divided and our economy is deteriorating. Professor Mitchell is not alone in wanting to know why.

There are those who will say that this is because Parliament has no powers. There are those who will say that this is because Parliament lacks the right processes and procedures to hold those in power accountable. Both excuses are nonsense. Parliament does not work because it does not have the right people.

Parliaments are places where you can argue – that’s literally what we need them for. These are places where people come to talk – to talk. I hope not for my own sake, but for the betterment of the nation. You bring your perspective and I bring mine; we meet in parliament and sort things out; agreeing on a way forward that learns from both of our perspectives. As problems are solved, problems are solved.

This is what should happen. But that is not what happens in the Scottish Parliament. Instead, drones fly into Holyrood to parrot scripts prepared in advance by party whips. The Seals arrive to clap their hands at empty soundbites dropped by party leaders whose agents control everything from committee memberships to seating. If it’s a zombie parliament, it’s because it’s full of zombies. Parliament of the undead. Parliament for the hard-thinking.

It is not fair, for even on the most disciplined benches there are those who, despite all the head tricks of the party managers, continue to show flickers and glimpses of thought. They are rare creatures, but they do exist. One such as John Mason, SNP member for Shettleston. I don’t share many of Mr. Mason’s beliefs, but at least he has some, and at least he voices them.

Or rather, at least he did. Because, of course, he was muzzled. It wasn’t his opinion that the basic income tax rate should start at 60% for middle earners that got him into trouble, but his religious views on abortion. He dares to challenge his party leadership that anyone who criticizes abortion is an insult to human dignity, and for his pain has been silenced and given an official warning. In the SNP, apparently, even matters of conscience are subject to the whip.

Perhaps it should not be surprising. After all, this is the same SNP that recently tried to use the floor of the House of Commons to de-platform pro-life votes from BBC Scotland. Intolerance to dissent has been around for a long time – now it is aimed at elected members of the SNP.

This is the complete opposite of what a grown-up parliament should be. How can you hold a parliamentary debate in a room where everyone is pre-programmed to agree? This is not a debate at all. This is the incantation of the approved party line, repeated ad nauseam.

And it doesn’t matter how creative people are in the country. People make parliaments: and if they get the wrong people, it makes no difference what powers a parliament has or what processes and procedures it can use. If it has the wrong people in it, Parliament will simply wither and die, fading into the darkness like the cry of a lonely piper.

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