30 September 2007

The Sunday Whip

Quite a busy week for divisions, with nine in all. The last time a week was so busy was all the way back on the 14th of June, when there were nine in one day.

Anyway, Wednesday saw eight absentees, and they missed a Business Motion to allow time on Thursday for a statement and debate on EARL, which was challenged by the LibDems, and a debate on Glasgow Housing Association that went to a vote. Anyway, the absentees were Richard Lochhead (Rural Affairs Secretary and MSP for Moray), Karen Gillon (Lab, Clydesdale), Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw), Margaret Mitchell (Con, Central Scotland), John Scott (Tory Rural Affairs Spokesman and MSP for Ayr), Liam McArthur (LibDem, Orkney), Mike Pringle (LibDem, Edinburgh South), and Jamie Stone (LibDem, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross). The Business Motion passed by 106 votes to 14, with the LibDems and Margo MacDonald voting against, and overwhelmed by the other parties.

The Glasgow Housing Association debate, however, was far more difficult. The Government's motion faced a Labour amendment, which in turn faced a LibDem amendment. This passed by 74 votes to 46: the SNP were the sole opponents, with everyone else, including Margo MacDonald in favour. However, the amended amendment was not so fortunate: the vote was tied at 60-60, with Labour, the LibDems, the Greens and Margo voting in favour, and the SNP and Conservatives voting against. The Presiding Officer reluctantly stirred, lamenting that members had it in for him, and stuck down the amendment. The motion itself, left unscathed, also brought Holyrood to deadlock, with a 60-60 tie, the SNP and Tories in favour, and the others opposed. Alex Fergusson against had to break the tie, and voted in favour of the status quo, and against the motion. As such, Holyrood did not pass any policy on the GHA on Wednesday.

Thursday was ugly too, with a LibDem motion on waiting times coming to a vote, along with a debate on EARL. Jack McConnell, Margaret Mitchell and Jamie Stone all missed the fun. The Government tried an failed to amend the waiting times motion, with their proposal falling by 76 votes to 48. The SNP and Greens voted in favour, though Tricia Marwick (SNP, Central Fife) missed this vote (but was back in the Chamber for the others). Labour, the Tories, the LibDems and Margo all voted against. A Labour amendment was also struck down by 65 votes to 60: Labour had LibDem support, but the SNP, Tories, Greens and Margo were all opposed. The motion itself passed, by 77 votes to 47. Labour, the Tories and Margo all supported the LibDem motion, along with the SNP's Christopher Harvie (Mid Scotland & Fife), who will no doubt face difficult questions from the Whips. The rest of the SNP group voted against the motion along with the Greens, but it wasn't enough to stop defeat, and Harvie's vote proved not to matter, as Parliament passed the following motion by Ross Finnie:

That the Parliament is concerned that the Scottish Government's approach to waiting times will lead to an increase in bureaucracy, placing an administrative burden on clinicians; believes that introducing a legally binding guarantee will put further pressure on health professionals leading to a litigation culture in the NHS; regrets the decision by the SNP to put political dogma before patient need in ruling out the use of the private sector to reduce waiting times; regrets the lack of commitment from the Scottish Government to invest further in primary health care facilities; calls on the Scottish Government to continue making progress in reducing the longest waits, while prioritising shorter waiting times for the most serious conditions; calls on the Scottish Government to make an early statement on how it intends to implement its maximum waiting time guarantee without impacting on those with the greatest clinical need, and believes that the Scottish Government must, as a matter of urgency, publish a comprehensive assessment identifying the additional administrative and bureaucratic burdens that these new proposals will place on the NHS, how much they will cost and where the money will come from.

The EARL motion went better for the Government: a Labour amendment to John Swinney's motion fell by 64 votes to 61. Iain Gray and the rest of his party had support from the LibDems and Margo, but the SNP, Tories and Greens all opposed it, and that was that. The motion itself went through by 65 votes to 60: the SNP, Tories and Greens were all in favour, along with Helen 'Attila' Eadie (Lab, Dunfermline East), who had lambasted the Government during her speech, and, I assume, had managed to press the wrong button. Labour could only draw on the support of the LibDems to oppose the motion, however, so her error was costly only to her already ropey reputation in the Chamber. Anyway, the motion she supported was:

That the Parliament supports the Scottish Government's plans to develop rail links to Edinburgh airport and to improve other rail services.

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