16 September 2007

The Sunday Whip

A rather bad week for the Government, with defeats on both Wednesday and Thursday over education. Still, this is minority government in action.

On Wednesday, the Government led a debate on its Skills Stategy. First came Labour's amendment, which called for extra vocational training. It fell by 42 votes to 77, the 42 coming from the Labour group, minus Rhona Brankin (Midlothian and the Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary, for now at least), Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill and currently the Shadow Culture Minister), Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), and Elaine Smith (Coatbridge & Chryston). The SNP provided 45 of the 47 votes against the amendment, with Rural Affiars Secretary Richard Lochhead absent, as well as the First Minister. The Tory Group was all accounted for, voting against. For the LibDems, 14 MSPs were present and voting against, with Shadow Finance Secretary Tavish Scott, and Leader Nicol Stephen elsewhere. Frankly that sounds like really bad slashfic waiting to happen, but moving swiftly on, both Greens were present and voted against the amendment, while Margo MacDonald was absent.

Next was the Conservative amendment, which supported vocational education, advocated skills academies and got a dig at Scottish Enterprise in, which only the Tories (16) voted for. Everyone else in the Chamber (113) voted against it. The LibDem amendment, which called for extra university funding, also fell by 15 votes to 104. Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central and Shadow Environment Minister) voted with the LibDems, the only non-LibDem to do so, but otherwise, all those present voted along Party lines. The motion itself, noting the publication of Skills for Scotland and calling on those involved in education to help implement it, fell by 47 votes to 72: the SNP MSPs present, and the Greens voted in favour. Those present from the other parties voted against.

Thursday was even worse for the Government: a Government amendment that supported the abolition of the graduate endowment, noted that no firm commitments were available until the publication of the Comprehensive Spending Review, and looked forward to dialogue with COSLA, was voted down, by 48 votes to 76. The SNP Group (minus Angela Constance, the MSP for Livingston, who was away) and Greens voted in favour. The others voted No. 44 Labour MSPs were there to do so: only Frank McAveety (Glasgow Shettleston) and Elaine Smith (again) were absent. The entire Tory group was present and voting in opposition, while 15 of the 16 LibDems followed suit. Only Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) was absent. Even Margo MAcDonald voted against the amendment.

To pour salt in the wounds, a LibDem amendment, seeking an early announcement on the timetable and costings for extra nursery provision, was carried, by 75 votes to 46, with three abstentions. With no change in who was present (or not) for the vote, the SNP Group voted against, Labour, the Tories and LibDems all voted in favour, while the Greens and Margo MacDonald abstained. The amended motion was carried, by 76 votes to 46 with two abstentions: Margo MacDonald voted with Labour, the Tories and LibDems, in favour of the motion, so the motion passed was:

That the Parliament regrets that education has not been given a higher priority by this administration; calls for an urgent explanation to be given on funding for higher education and further education; calls for the missing detail to be given on the manifesto commitment to write off student debt; calls for a statement on how the commitment to reduce class sizes for primary 1 to primary 3 which has not been fully explained or costed will be delivered by 2011; calls for more detail on how a teacher will be provided to every early years class by 2011; regrets that nothing has been said about tackling indiscipline in Scotland's schools, and calls for an early statement on how funding will be provided to improve the school estate in Scotland and further calls for an early announcement on when the SNP manifesto pledge for a 50% increase in free nursery education for 3 and 4-year-olds will be met and how much it will cost.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Holyrood nodded through a change to Thursday's business to make way for a statement on the collapse of the World's End trial, next week's programme, an agreement to have Stage 1 of the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill completed by 16 November, and a motion allowing a brief debate on the draft Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 (Variation of Age Limit for Sale of Tobacco etc and Consequential Modifications) Order 2007, which went through without opposition on Thursday.

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