20 January 2008

The Sunday Whip

This week had a bit of everything, with something good for the Government, something quite awful, and a stramash that makes no one look all that good.

Wednesday saw the something awful (though the Busines Motion passed on the nod, as per), with a debate on an OECD report into the "Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland" generating debate. Angela Constance (Livingston) was the SNP's sole absentee. Labour had five people out: Trish Godman (West Renfrewshire), Iain Gray (Shadow Finance Secretary and MSP for East Lothian), Hugh Henry (Paisley South), Marilyn Livingstone (Kirkcaldy) and Pauline McNeill (Shadow Justice Secretary and MSP for Glasgow Kelvin), while the Tories had Deputy Leader and Education Spokesman Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland & Fife) out.

Now the votes: first came the Labour amendment to the Government's motion on the report. SNP opposition - along with Elaine Murray (Lab, Dumfries), who I assume pressed the wrong button - was not enough to stop this from passing by 55 votes (Labour, and the Tories) to 47 (the SNP and Murray) with 19 abstentions (the LibDems, Greens and Margo). A Tory amendment then passed by 57 votes (themselves, Labour - Elaine Murray returned to the fold - and Margo) to 46 (the SNP alone) with 18 abstentions (the LibDems and Greens). A LibDem amendment went through by 106 votes (everyone but the Tories) to 15 (the Tories). By now the motion had been amended half to death, and the SNP now opposed it, but it still passed by 59 votes (Labour, LibDems and Greens) to 46 (the SNP) with 16 abstentions (the Tories and Margo). This meant the Parliament agreed:

That the Parliament welcomes the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Reviews of Policies for National Education: Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland and its findings; notes the many positive aspects of our school education system highlighted by the OECD; agrees that this report is an invaluable international evidence base on which to debate and develop Scotland's educational policies for the future, recognising the significant challenges identified by the OECD; recognises the challenge in closing the gap in achievement associated with poverty and deprivation and the need for improved vocational education and high quality training; calls on the Scottish Government to take leadership and place an emphasis on literacy and numeracy, devolve power further to head teachers, develop leadership in schools and further develop vocational studies linked to high quality training, and regrets that this government has failed to address these priorities and has failed to deliver on key pledges made in the SNP manifesto; further notes that the report's key challenge to Scottish schools is to make them work consistently well and equitably and that this outcome is dependent upon greater autonomy within school management, much greater emphasis within the curriculum on basic skills in English and mathematics and greater opportunities for pupils to follow vocational opportunities; welcomes the recognition of the success of educational innovations and developments in Scotland since 1999, and believes that the OECD recommendations for further development of the vocational provision of education, for the development of further leadership in school head teams and for a greater emphasis on transition into primary and between primary and secondary education, with greater devolved but more transparent funding to deliver them, should be the priorities of the Scottish Government in improving even further Scotland's strong internationally renowned education system.

So with the Government having a hard time on Wednesday, Thursday couldn't come quickly enough. The SNP were at full strength, but Labour were missing Shadow Education Secretary Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) and Marilyn Livingstone. Murdo Fraser was still missing for the Tories - he has missed all four Decision Times this month - and Margo MacDonald opted not to attend.

First came the Government motion on Energy. Jamie Stone (LibDem, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) breached with his party for this one by abstaining on all the amendments and the motion itself. What is it about Highland LibDems and energy policy? John Thurso (the MP for the Constituency of the same name) has stayed off the LibDem frontbench, so as to enjoy the freedom to go against the party line and support nuclear power. Anyway, a Labour amendment itself faced a Tory amendment, which fell by 62 votes (the SNP and LibDems, minus Stone) to 59 (the Tories and Labour) with three abstentions (the Greens and Stone). The untouched amendment then fell by 64 votes (the SNP, 15 LibDems and Greens) to 59 (Labour and the Tories) with Jamie Stone pressing the 'Abstain' button. A LibDem amendment passed by the same 64 to 15 (the Tories), with 45 abstentions (Labour and Stone). The motion itself passed by 63 votes to 58 with two abstentions: the SNP were supported by the LibDems - though Education Spokesman Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale) went walkabout and Stone abstained again - and Greens. Labour opposed the motion - with the exception of Marlyn Glen (North East Scotland) who abstained - along with the Tories. So MSPs agreed:

That the Parliament notes the Energy Bill introduced by the UK Government; welcomes the Bill's provisions in relation to promotion of renewable energy which will allow the Scottish Parliament to determine levels of support for emerging technologies; recognises the potential of carbon capture and storage for reducing carbon emissions and supports further dialogue with the UK Government on exercise of powers in relation to regulation of carbon storage; welcomes the Scottish Government's position that new nuclear power stations are not necessary to meet renewable electricity targets or carbon emissions targets and are not wanted in Scotland; welcomes the UK Government's recognition that the Bill's provisions on nuclear decommissioning should not extend to Scotland, and believes that Scotland can have a secure, low-carbon, non-nuclear energy future through a combination of a growing renewables sector exploiting a range of technologies, including marine energy, cleaner energy from fossil fuels, microgeneration and biomass; acknowledges the important role of the enterprise networks in helping to achieve this and the need for renewables to remain a priority for a well-resourced Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and further recognises the central importance of improved energy efficiency resulting from better insulated buildings and increased awareness of the benefits that accrue from behavioural change and demand reduction.

Then came the Government motion on firearms, which was not a triumph for Parliamentary consensus-building. Indeed, it was not a triumph for anyone. A Labour amendment fell by 64 votes (the SNP, Tories and Greens) to 59 (Labour and the LibDems, still without Purvis). A Tory amendment fell by 49 votes (the SNP and Greens) to 31 (the Tories and LibDems, who had Purvis back by this point) with 44 abstentions (Labour). Then the motion itself fell: the SNP and Greens were in favour and found what I assume was unintended support from Tory Justice Spokesman - of all the people to press the wrong button! - Bill Aitken (Glasgow), and Jim Tolson (LibDem, Dunfermline West), but this surprising coalition could only amass 51 votes, and so the 73 votes against the motion (cast by Labour, the remaining Tories and remaining LibDems) carried the day, which means that MSPs now have no position on firearms, rendering the afternoon's proceedings a total, utter waste of time, compounded by the fact that a planned Legislative Consent Motion on the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill was withdrawn and will apparently take place this coming week. Oh well.


Anonymous said...

This is what they REALLY think of us down south!


Scott said...

Murdo Fraser may have been on paternity leave that week. I understand his wife gave birth on 3rd January.