22 December 2006

Chisholm presses the nuclear button

I've written a good deal about Malcolm Chisholm over the past few months, more than any other minister with the possible exception of Jack McConnell. I might have written slightly more about Gordon Jackson, but 1) I'm not sure, and 2) he's not a minister so he doesn't count. Anyway, the Chisholm saga being one of the longest running stories on this blog, it's only fitting that as we come to the end of the year, the tale should come to an end. It did so last night, as the Communities Minister left his post, after voting with the SNP over Trident.

It's pleasant (but sadly rare) that someone values their principles over their ministerial post, and Chisholm has to be congratulated for his stance. Sadly, it's the only real justification I have for saying anything positive about him. This was a man who had to be re-shuffled out of the Health portfolio simply to stop the wave of embarrassing headlines concerning the NHS. This was a man who failed to secure support for the Executive's key Communities policy in Edinburgh, Stirling, Renfrewshire and Highland. And when does he finally resign? When he votes with the SNP over the positioning of nuclear submarines in Scotland. I hope readers will excuse me when I suggest that maybe, just maybe, Chisholm does not deserve a tickertape parade for this one.

McConnell will of course have to find a replacement, but as (s)he can't be ratified until after the holidays, he has a few weeks to consider the situation. When Peter Peacock resigned, I tipped Allan Wilson to succeed him. This didn't happen and I don't see him succeeding Chisholm either. The Communities brief requires some basic people skills, and Wilson appears not to have any, preferring to spend his entire waking life complaining about the SNP's Higher Education policy. This probably suits McConnell so he's staying put, I suspect. It might be tempting to stick Lewis MacDonald in there to raise the profile of an MSP in a marginal seat, but Aberdeen Central is too marginal (so raising his profile would serve only to provide the SNP with a high-profile scalp) and with the problems that Chisholm faced in the job it might damage MacDonald's standing rather than enhance it. Given that McConnell is only performing 'sticking plaster' appointments now (promoting a Deputy Minister to replace a Minister, promoting a Backbencher to fill the Deputy's post) rather than actually moving sitting Ministers around, Patricia Ferguson and Margaret Curran's Hands will also stay put. My money's on Rhona Brankin, the Deputy Environment Minister. She has experience of Community issues, having helped to establish Ross-shire Women's Aid. She's also not Johann Lamont or Des McNulty, who only got their current positions last month.

Of course, the interesting thing to come out of the Trident debate was not the resignation of a Minister, or the fact that none of the Parties' positions gained enough support (all but four Labour MSPs are too busy to consider issues of global geo-politics and the morality of Weapons of Mass Destruction, when they have to stop the SNP from winning a vote), but that Jack McConnell mysteriously contracted bronchitis just in time to miss yesterday's business. I know that he used to lose his voice on reserved issues (Dungavel springs to mind, when you could write down everything Jack said about it on a single piece of toilet paper), but I never realised that he literally lost the ability to speak.

Oh, and while I'm here, Iain Gray has been selected to fight East Lothian in place of John Home Robertson. Given that the seat was reasonably secure, that's him almost certain to return to Holyrood.

No comments: