16 March 2008

The Sunday Whip

Well, this was one week that various parties will want to forget.

Wednesday was something of a fiasco, breaking the usual trend of consensus. The Business Motion went through as usual, though a vote that nothing further be done (their words, not mine) under the Home Detention Curfew Licence (Prescribed Standard Conditions) (Scotland) Order 2008 passed by 62 votes to 58 with one abstention. This was mainly down to the LibDem Whips not being totally on the ball: the 62 votes in favour were Labour - minus absentees Marilyn Livingstone (Kirkcaldy) and Michael McMahon (Hamilton North & Bellshill) - the Tories, and four LibDems: Health Spokesman Ross Finnie (West of Scotland), Alison McInnes (North East Scotland), John Farquhar Munro (Ross, Skye & Inverness West) and Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross). The 58 were the SNP - minus Parliamentary Business Minister Bruce Crawford (Stirling) who would have had to move the motion and then vote against it (even Labour only go so far as amending motions then voting against them, so Crawford was wise to stay away!), the rest of the LibDems - minus Iain Smith (North East Fife) and Party Leader Nicol Stephen (Aberdeen South) who were elsewhere - and the Greens. Margo MacDonald was the abstention, as usual, but the story is that the LibDems basically lost the vote for the Government. Although, before I rush to condemn them, it's worth pointing out there were two very similar motions on very similarly-titled SSIs, so confusion may be forgivable. Clearly four LibDems forgot their reading glasses.

Anyway, the vote on the Home Detention Curfew Licence (Amendment of Specified Days) (Scotland) Order 2008 went far more smoothly, with it being passed by 65 votes (SNP, LibDem - Smith and Stephen showed up for this one - Green, Margo), to 60 (Labour/Tories). The day did end on a calm note, though, with a Legislative Consent Motion on the Pensions Bill - wending its way through Westminster - going through on the nod.

So while Wednesday was more chaotic than usual, Thursday was the usual ugliness. Alex Salmond was well away from it, as were Michael McMahon and Nanette Milne (Con, North East Scotland).

First came the LibDem motion on Transport: a Labour amendment fell by 80 votes (everyone but Labour) to 45; a Tory amendment had an SNP amendment which passed by 81 votes (the SNP, Tories, LibDems, Greens, Margo and Andy Kerr, Labour's Shadow Public Services Minister and MSP for East Kilbride) to 44 (Labour minus Kerr). The amended amendment passed by 64 votes (SNP, Tories, Greens, Margo) to 61 (Labour and the LibDems), as did the amended motion, which read:

That the Parliament notes the decision to progress the Borders railway taken by the Parliament on 14 June 2006; regrets the delay in construction and the substantial increases in costs since the project's inception, commends the 450,000 tonnes of CO2 saved by the project, and calls on the Scottish Government to work with Transport Scotland and the relevant local authorities to ensure that the project is completed as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

Then came the LibDems' fuel poverty motion. An SNP amendment fell by 76 votes (Labour, Tories, LibDems) to 48 (SNP/Greens) with one abstention (guess who?), while a Labour amendment was waved through. The same cannot be said for a Tory amendment, which fell by 109 votes (SNP, Labour, LibDems, Greens) to 16 (the Tories and Margo). The amended version passed by 65 votes (Labour, LibDems, Greens, Margo and SNP Mid Scotland & Fife MSP Professor Christopher Harvie, also known as the Mouth of Tübingen) to 15 (the Tories) with 45 abstentions (the SNP minus the Professor). So the motion passed:

That the Parliament deplores the fact that while household fuel prices have risen by six times the rate of inflation over the past year, power companies' profits have risen by 500%; is concerned that, for every 5% increase in fuel prices, it is estimated that 40,000 more Scottish households become fuel poor, while almost 3,000 deaths per year are linked to living in cold, damp housing; believes that tackling the social, health and environmental impacts of fuel poverty can save people money, improve health and help to tackle climate change; calls for the re-establishment of the Fuel Poverty Forum with a remit to include the development of a one-stop-shop approach to fuel poverty that increases the installation of energy efficiency measures, efficient central heating systems, microgeneration and smart meter technology; recognises the importance of continued support for voluntary and statutory organisations providing debt management, money and energy advice to those most affected by fuel poverty; calls on the Scottish Government to consider the introduction of a local tax rebate to provide a further incentive to householders to invest in energy efficiency and microgeneration packages, and further calls for changes to planning rules to make it easier to install micropower.

This was followed by a Government motion on National Parks. A Labour amendment was waved through, and a Tory amendment would have followed suit had the LibDems not challenged the motion only to abstain - it passed by 109 votes to 0 with 16 abstentions. A LibDem amendment, however, did fall by 64 votes (SNP, Tories, Greens and Johann Lamont, Labour's Shadow Communities Minister and MSP for Glasgow Pollok) to 60 (Labour - minus Lamont - and the LibDems) with one abstention (no prizes). The motion that was amended by everyone but the LibDems then went through without dissent:

That the Parliament notes the forthcoming strategic review of Scotland's two national parks; welcomes the opportunities that the national parks give to Scotland's citizens and visitors, and in particular commends their contribution to the greener Scotland agenda; believes that the following issues should be included for specific consideration in the review: the effectiveness of the national parks in achieving the main objectives set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, the success of the national parks in building community engagement and involvement in the development of both parks, and whether the boundaries of the parks should be reviewed, and calls on the Scottish Government to address concerns regarding the structural effectiveness of the national park authorities as presently constituted with a view to enhancing local participation and to address ongoing issues with regard to the southern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park.

Finally, three SSIs were waved through: the Renewables Obligation (Scotland) Amendment Order 2008, the Official Statistics (Scotland) Order 2008 and the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 2008.

Such fun. Next week sees Labour business, which should be good for a ding-dong, but otherwise will be notable for Tony Benn's presence at time for reflection.

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