THREE weeks ago when Gail Ross announced she was standing down from parliament no one could have guessed how relevant some of the issues she raised were about to become for all parliamentarians. Gail explained that she was finding the demands of travelling to Edinburgh every week, covering the ground in her sizeable rural constituency and caring for a young family too much. She suggested that MSPs who faced similar challenges should be afforded the opportunity to use online technology for meetings and voting.

Now, as the coronavirus spreads and Scotland and the UK go into lockdown, the mechanics that could make her suggestion work need to be looked at as a matter of urgency.

We keep hearing that the Westminster Parliament did not shut down during either World War or the Spanish flu but in those days, there was not the option of digital technology which makes both remote working and remote voting possible.

READ MORE: Kirsty Strickland: We’re all in this together – this is time for selflessness

As the virus swept across continental Europe the EU Parliament cut its timetable down to one plenary session without voting on March 9, and on March 10 MEPs said their good-byes and returned to their home countries to work remotely. They do not know when the European Parliament will reconvene.

In the US a democratic congresswoman suggested that they adopt remote voting if the crisis worsened to the extent that it would be imprudent for representatives to travel At Westminster, at Prime Minister’s Questions on March 4, Carol Monaghan pointed out that MPs are often jammed into crowded voting lobbies with hundreds of other MPs and wondered how many of us would be taking the virus back to our constituencies. That practice continued despite Carol’s concerns and as she predicted it appears that some MPs have indeed taken the virus back home with them. Dr Philippa Whitford has raised the same concerns pointing out that while the UK Government has argued that asymptomatic spread is incredibly rare that has not been the experience of the Asian countries that have been through the worst of the crisis. For these reasons and others Dr Philippa was an early advocate of the social distancing that is now the norm.

Last year the Westminster Parliament became a little more family-friendly when it introduced the practice of allowing MPs on maternity or paternity leave to vote by proxy but there seems to be little inclination to go any further. Repeated demands by SNP MPs for electronic voting have fallen on deaf ears even though most modern parliaments like Holyrood use this every day.

At Holyrood Gail Ross asked the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee of the Scottish Parliament to see if there was any possibility that members could video into meetings and remote vote. She was advised that the committee has identified concerns over remote voting and did not think it feasible to pursue it “at this time” but, it would consider the potential for proxy voting.

I understand why remote voting is approached with caution in normal times. There is a risk that if MPs or MSPs don’t need to be at Parliament they will be under immense pressure to spend more of their time in the constituency working on local issues which might be better taken forward by others and thereby neglecting the important functions of making laws and scrutinising the Government of the day. There needs to be a proper balance between parliamentarians’ local and national duties and democracy benefits from parliamentarians meeting together in person to swap ideas and experiences as well as to debate and vote.

READ MORE: UK Government considers universal basic income plan

However, the current unprecedented public health crisis is surely a good opportunity for Westminster to trial electronic voting and for both Parliaments to trial remote voting and video conferencing for important committee meetings. It seems inevitable that neither Parliament can continue to meet as normal at least for the height of the crisis but it is imperative that representative democracy continues and that the executive is kept under scrutiny particularly in relation to the wide-ranging emergency powers that are contemplated.

Finally, while it is entirely right that large gatherings like SNP June Conference and the scheduled National Assemblies should be postponed, it is most unfortunate that party members won’t have these forums to discuss and debate policy and strategy as the UK teeters on the edge of cutting itself off from the rest of Europe even further. I agree with those who argue that it is wholly unrealistic to think that indyref2 can now happen this year. However, the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future will return to the top of the agenda when this crisis is over. The SNP has a record of digital innovation and now would be the perfect opportunity to use this know-how to improve internal party democracy by facilitating participation in discussion and decision making through digital democracy platforms.