14 September 2006

The Battle of Monklands A&E

Well, the SNP have decided today to smoke out the Lanarkshire Labour MSPs into either inflicting an embarrassing defeat on the Executive, or supporting the decision to downgrade the A&E service at Monklands, thus providing SNP candidates with ammunition come next May, and increase the likelihood of hospital campaigners standing, and taking more votes from Labour.

The SNP motion "does not accept the case put forward for the downgrading of the accident and emergency unit at Monklands Hospital and calls on the Scottish Executive to re-examine its decision to approve this downgrading."

Needless to say, Lewis MacDonald (who's fronting this as the other targets for closure would have been in Jack McConnell's or Health Minister Andy Kerr's constituency) has produced an amendment with the standard bland puff you'd expect from an Executive motion, saying as it does that the Executive's health strategy is a wonderful thing.

The interesting thing is that the MSP most directly affected, Karen Whitefield, whose constituency (Airdrie & Shotts, in case you're wondering) contains Monklands, has tried to walk a tightrope, by producing her own amendment which says that the Executive's strategy is OK, but still "calls on the Scottish Executive to reverse its decision to approve the downgrading of accident and emergency services at Monklands."

Now, that amendment is slightly absurd, as you can't say that the strategy is good but it shouldn't be implemented. Also, it means that she still has to vote against the Executive if her amendment is to see the light of day, so she'll still be embarrassing the Executive which she's obviously trying to avoid (though by actively calling on it to reverse a decision, she isn't trying very hard). Also, what does she do if both amendments fall? Does she vote for the motion, and incur the wrath of the whips, or against it, and incur the wrath of her constituents? What if the Executive amendment gets passed? Does she then support the motion as amended, as she apparently supported the strategy all along, or does she break with that to defend the hospital in her constituency, and vote against the motion? Basically, this is her attempt to get out of a tight spot... and she's made things even tighter.

One more point: the Labour Chief Whip and Minister for the Parliament, Margaret Curran's Hands, has apparently gone into overdrive to keep the Executive's support. If you ask me, she's playing this wrong... isn't it better to lose this one vote in the Chamber, than to potentially lose a number of seats at the Election over this issue? (And before you tell me how safe Labour seats are in Lanarkshire, remember that a swing of just over 1% will see the SNP win Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, that just under 8% will get them East Kilbride, and that Strathkelvin and Bearsden went from being Labour's safest seat to being won by Jean Turner over Stobhill Hospital) Isn't it better to have MSPs who will vote against a Labour policy this one time, rather than MSPs from another Party, who (unless they're LibDems, and are in coalition with Labour again) will do it far more frequently?

Put another way, to save herself from bad headlines tomorrow morning, Margaret Curran may have inflicted worse headlines for the Labour Party on the morning of 4 May.

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