23 December 2007

The Christmas Whip

With Holyrood back in recess, it's time to take a look at MSPs' voting performances since September.

In the Summer session (well, May/June), I named the Top 7 absentees - I would have only named five but three MSPs were tied in fifth place. None of them (Helen Eadie, Frank McAveety, Tavish Scott, George Foulkes, Cathie Craigie, Liam McArthur and Margaret Smith) are in the Christmas Top 5.

There were 72 divisions in all - though Shirley-Anne Somerville had not been sworn in in time for one of them, and Alasdair Morgan was in the chair for another, so they were only able to take part in 71. Angela Constance (SNP, Livingston), was on maternity leave for most of the autumn, so it's no surprise that she missed the most votes - 46 in all. Next came Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), who missed 26. Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston) missed twenty, which I'm sure will be of interest to Julie McAnulty, who was a candidate in Smith's constituency in May. Jamie Stone (LibDem, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) and John Farquhar Munro were joint fourth, having missed 19 votes each.


Despite Constance being on maternity leave, the SNP have the best attendance record of any political party with 97.4%. In addition to her, Rural Affairs Secretary (and MSP for Moray) Richard Lochhead's ministerial duties have put him out of commission for 18 Holyrood votes, while the First Minister Alex Salmond (also MSP for Gordon, remember) has missed nine. Shona Robison (Public Health Minister and MSP for Dundee East) has missed four, while Linda Fabiani (Europe Minister and MSP for Central Scotland) and Stewart Maxwell (Communities Minister and MSP for West of Scotland) missed three. Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North), Bill Kidd (Glasgow), Kenny MacAskill (Justice Secretary and MSP for Edinburgh East & Musselburgh), Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) and Nicola Sturgeon (Deputy First Minister and MSP for Glasgow Govan) have all missed just one. The remaining 36 MSPs all have full attendance records.

However, of concern to the SNP Whips will be the occasional breach with the group. Although the SNP are the most disciplined of the major groups in the Chamber, three MSPs have, on one occasion, voted a different way to their colleagues: Christopher Harvie (Mid Scotland & Fife), Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) and Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians).


Although Labour are no longer the 'worst offenders' in terms of absences - they have an attendance record of 94.08% - the reality is that 33 Labour MSPs missed at least one vote this term, which is more MSPS than the Tories and LibDems even have put together. In addition to Elaine Smith, Ken McIntosh (the Shadow Schools Minister and MSP for Eastwood) missed 16 votes, Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) missed 13 and Rhoda Grant (Highlands & Islands) missed 12. Tom McCabe (Hamilton South) and Des McNulty (MSP for Clydebank & Milngavie, and first Shadow Environment Minister, then Shadow Transport Minister) missed eleven each. Rhona Brankin (Shadow Education Secretary and MSP for Midlothian) and Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) missed ten.

Charlie Gordon (formerly Shadow Transport Minister until Donorgate broke, and still MSP for Glasgow Cathcart), Hugh Henry (Paisley North) and former First Minister Jack McConnell (Motherwell & Wishaw) all missed nine votes. Irene Oldfather (Cunninghame South) missed seven, while Frank McAveety (Shadow Sport Minister and MSP for Glasgow Shettleston) and Duncan McNeil (Greenock & Inverclyde) both missed five. Karen Whitefield (Airdrie & Shotts) and Elaine Smith (Coatbridge & Chryston) missed four votes each.

Seven MSPs missed three votes: Party Leader Wendy Alexander (Paisley North), Shadow Parliament Minister Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton), Shadow Higher Education Minister Richard Baker (North East Scotland) and also his colleague on the North East Regional List Marlyn Glen, as well as Marilyn Livingstone (Kirkcaldy), Shadow Childrens Minister Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow) and Shadow Public Health Minister Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland & Fife).

Four missed two votes: Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central), Shadow Health Secretary Margaret Curran (Glasgow Baillieston), Shadow Public Services Secretary Andy Kerr (East Kilbride) and Shadow Energy Minister Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central).

This leaves five Labour MSPs missing one vote: Claire Baker (Mid Scotland & Fife), Trish Godman (West Renfrewshire), Deputy Leader Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley), David Stewart (Highlands & Islands), who was appointed Shadow Environment Minister after the vacancy caused by Charlie Gordon's disgrace, and David Whitton (Strathkelvin & Bearsden).

Not only are there a lot of Labour absentees, but there are eight Labour MSPs who have broken with the Party on one occasion, seven of which have already been mentioned: Sarah Boyack, Patricia Ferguson, Trish Godman, Frank McAveety, Richard Simpson, Elaine Smith and David Whitton. Only Helen Eadie - who had the weakest attendance record in the Summer - compensated for her one (accidental, if memory serves) rebellion with being present for every vote. This was a problem before the Summer recess, and the change in Leadership has not helped things.


The Tories are Number 2 in the attendance stakes, with a rate of 95.31%, despite the fact that only six of their 16 MSPs have a 100% record. Of the remaining ten, Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) has missed 14 votes, Jamie McGrigor (Highlands & Islands) has missed ten, and Rural Affairs Spokesman John Scott (Ayr) has missed seven. Justice Spokesman Bill Aitken (Glasgow), Jackson Carlaw (West of Scotland), David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) and Health Spokesperson Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands have all missed four votes, with John Lamont (Roxburgh & Berwickshire) missing three. Finance Spokesman Derek Brownlee (South of Scotland) and Gavin Brown (Lothians) have each missed two.

And there have been three rebels, each breaking with the group on one occasion: Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland & Fife), Margaret Mitchell and bizarrely, Annabel Goldie! Does that mean that actually, the other fifteen were rebels that day?

Liberal Democrats

Out of the five political parties in the Chamber, the Liberal Democrats have the poorest attendance record, with 91.58%. Only if you count Margo MacDonald as a political party do the LibDems avoid this title.

Only five of their MSPs have perfect attendance. John Farquhar Munro and Jamie Stone have the worst record, with 19 missed votes (though there have been questions about Munro's health, which would mitigate this somewhat). Liam McArthur (Orkney) missed 15 votes and his fellow Island MSP Finance Spokesman Tavish Scott (Shetland) missed ten. Mike Pringle (Edinburgh South) has missed 9 votes, with Iain Smith (North East Fife) missing 8. Party Leader Nicol Stephen and Health Spokesman Ross Finnie have each missed six votes, while Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) has missed three. Jim Hume (South of Scotland) and Justice Spokesperson Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) have each missed one.

However, the discipline record is poor, and the LibDems are the only one of the parties to have MSPs who have broken ranks more than once. Hugh O'Donnell (Central Scotland) and Margaret Smith have rebelled twice. Three others have broken ranks once: John Farquhar Munro, Mike Pringle and Jamie Stone.


The Greens have an OK attendance record, at 93.75%. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) has missed eight votes and Robin Harper has missed one. Now, technically, this makes them the only party with no MSPs with a 100% attendance record, but there are also the only party with the fewest absentees. This is the problem when they only have two MSPs, but the pair of them have voted the same way in each vote where they've both been present. This makes them the most disciplined of the parties.

Margo MacDonald

Much has been made of Margo MacDonald's abstention rate, but this time, that's been dwarfed by her absence rate. She has missed 26 votes, which gives her an attendance record of 63.89%. Margo's big selling point is that she's an independent voice, but it's not on that we've heard much of this Autumn. It must be quite exasperating for her 19,256 voters in May. Is her heart no longer in it?

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