24 February 2008

The Sunday Whip

Well, this was a good week for the Government, albeit completely and utterly dull, dull, dull. Aside from the Business Motions, which passed as they do, there were only three motions at Decision Time, and they passed on the nod!

So no one had any problems with a Legislative Consent Motion on the Education and Skills Bill, or the approval of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Order 2007 (I have a problem with this one: 2007 ended nearly two months ago!) and the Quality Meat Scotland Order 2008.

Anyway. Thursday was only marginally more interesting. So interesting that Brian Adam (SNP, Aberdeen North) gave it a miss. As did Patricia Ferguson (Lab, Glasgow Maryhill), Marilyn Livingstone (Lab, Kirkcaldy), Lewis Macdonald (Labour's Shadow Energy Minister and MSP for Aberdeen Central), Duncan McNeil (Lab, Greenock & Inverclyde), John Park (Lab, Mid Scotland & Fife), Jackson Carlaw (Con, West of Scotland), Jamie McGrigor (Con, Highlands & Islands) and Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians).

The first interesting thing was a Labour amendment to the Tory motion on Scottish Water. It passed by 87 votes (the SNP and Labour) to 32 (the Tories, LibDems and Greens), and rendered a LibDem amendment irrelevant (I'm saying nothing!). The vote on the amended motion passed by 86 to 33: the same parties, with the exception of Labour's Shadow Sport Minister and MSP for Glasgow Shettleston Frank McAveety, who clearly jammed the keypad with his palm and accidentally voted No. Luckily for him, it didn't matter, and Parliament agreed:

That the Parliament supports the retention of Scottish Water under public ownership and in that context calls on the Scottish Government to keep under review the structure and operations of Scottish Water, the regulatory arrangements for the water industry to ensure that the interests of domestic and business customers are properly protected and alternative public sector models, including mutualisation, and to report back to the Parliament in due course.

Then came the interesting amendments to a Tory motion on prison policy. First up was a LibDem amendment to the Government amendment, which passed by 64 (SNP, LibDems and Greens) to 55 (Labour and the Tories), and the amended amendment went through the same way. A Labour amendment was defeated, by 76 votes to 41 with two abstentions. Here's the slightly surreal part: although Labour voted in favour, while the SNP, Tories and LibDems voted against with the Greens on the fence, Christine Grahame (SNP, South of Scotland) voted in favour, and Helen Eadie (Lab, Dunfermline East) voted against. Is this the start of an exchange programme? And has this dented Helen Eadie's Leadership prospects (Sorry Calum!)?

Anyway, the motion passed by 64 votes (SNP, LibDems and Greens) to 55 (Labour and the Tories), so members agreed:

That the Parliament acknowledges the importance of a criminal justice system in which the public has confidence and which upholds the fundamental right of the public to a secure and safe society; notes that, while the offending rate has been falling, the number of people in prison currently stands at record levels and that Scotland has one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world; welcomes the McLeish Commission into Penal Policy and recognises that, in the case of serious and dangerous individuals, custody is the only appropriate punishment; notes that the Scottish Government is committed to three new prisons and has increased investment in the prisons estate to an average of £120 million a year; recognises the need to reduce the number of low-level receptions into custody for short-term sentences by focusing on tough community sentences that pay back into the community for the harm caused; further notes the need to improve treatment for those with mental health problems and drug and alcohol addictions, thus addressing the underlying causes of offending, and calls on the Scottish Government to build on schemes which provide offenders with education and skills training for work, not crime.

But it could have been so different: the Presiding Officer had one of his moments, and called the vote as 64 for, 65 against, which is impossible as that would mean that 129 MSPs would have voted, so the nine absentees would have had to dash in to vote against the motion, and the PO would have had to break the impartiality convention and probably several standing orders. Still, he had the grace to smile:

"Oh well, you know what I am like with numbers by now."


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