Remote working procedures brought in to help Holyrood adapt to Covid-19 could remain in place after the pandemic has come to an end, even though they are “suboptimal” to normal sittings, the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer has said.

Ken Macintosh said he had been “pleased and relieved” by how the parliament had adapted its working practices after the virus struck.

Those changes have seen some business, including committee meetings and questions to ministers, take place entirely remotely, with MSPs appearing from their living rooms, studies and kitchens.

The Scottish Parliament has also shifted to an online voting system which has seen more members than before taking part when compared to when votes had to be cast in the chamber.

Holyrood introduced new remote working procedures in the wake of Covid-19 (Jane Barlow/PA)

But MSPs have also continued to be in the Holyrood building, with Nicola Sturgeon giving regular updates on Covid-19 and sessions such as First Minister’s Questions also proceeding.

Mr Macintosh, who is stepping down as Presiding Officer and finishing as an MSP at May’s Scottish elections, said there had been a “big plus side” to the virtual arrangements that have been put in place.

But he also insisted he would not wish the remote working practices that have been adopted to be the default position.

The next parliament will have to decide in what circumstances these arrangements can continue to be used, when the pandemic comes to an end, he said.

Looking back on the last year Mr Macintosh told the PA Scotland news agency: “I am pleased and relieved at how we have adapted, I think it is quite remarkable.”

He added: “We always had resilience planning but we didn’t imagine we wouldn’t be able to meet at all, that we would have to be keeping our distance from one another.

“So adapting to that, adapting to working from home and keeping the parliament functioning was an enormous challenge, and one that I think both the staff and the members rose to remarkably well.”

An online voting system was developed, with Mr Macintosh saying this “essentially made sure that no MSP anywhere in Scotland, or no community, was disenfranchised, that they had their representative able to speak on their behalf”.

He hailed this as a “remarkable achievement”, as he told how allowing both politicians and witnesses giving evidence to take part remotely had brought advantages.

Asked if these changes would remain in place once the pandemic is over, he said that “will be a decision for the next parliament”.

The Presiding Officer said: “There are the plus points, this remote access, all the advantages on online access, including increased voter turn out. The number of members voting at decision time everyday is notably higher than it would be normally. There are 120 members quite normally voting most days, which is a lot higher than would normally be the case if they had to be here in person.

“But the downside is it is not the same as a parliament meeting in person.”

Mr Macintosh stressed: “Politics is a human, interpersonal business. It requires that interaction and it is really missed.

“When you have got a virtual chamber you can not have interventions with members in the virtual chamber. That is just clearly not right if you are having a debate. And we have noticed members not being able to read the mood of the room, because they are not in the room.

“But it is more than that, it is about human interaction, not seeing your colleagues, not making friendships, particularly friendships across party divides. These are the things that politics really flourishes on, you need to persuade.

“Politics is not simply a transactional, unemotive business. It is quite emotive, it is very passionate and so you need that human interaction.

“I wouldn’t want to uninvent any of the virtual facilities we have now got, but I do not think we should continue with them as the default standard way of carrying out business.

“They should be there as an addition, or when necessary, but politics is a human, personal business.

“A virtual parliament has some advantages, and I am very proud of what we have achieved but it is not the same, it is suboptimal, if I can put it that way, to the real business of politics, which is about people getting on with people and reaching agreement and compromise and understanding.”

He continued: “The incoming parliament will have a dilemma. And it won’t be immediate, because we still be under some form of restrictions when we come back, there will still be social distancing, probably still reduced numbers, probably still the default position of working from home, and parliament will of course observe all these things.

“But at some point the restrictions will lift and the new parliament will have to make a decision under what circumstances virtual working is allowed and when it is not.”

Here he said he would “would imagine that the new parliament will want to insist on the default position of being present in the chamber, in the committee rooms, in the building, then it will have to work out the circumstances in which it will allow remote access.”