27 April 2008

The Sunday Whip

All in all, this was a good week for the Government in terms of Parliamentary votes - no votes lost, everything passed broadly as they would like, and more attention given to the statements on getting rid of Standard Grades and their reaction to the Grangemouth Refinery Strike. Attention was also given to Linda Fabiani's vests, which I'll refer to later for fits and giggles.

Anyway. Wednesday was not as consensual as usual, though still moderately quiet. The Business Motions went through as usual, as did an LCM on the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill. A motion on Historic Scotland and Local Authorities, however, did merit some attention, though there were twelve absentees: for the SNP, the Communities Minister Stewart Maxwell was absent, as were Maxwell's fellow West of Scotland MSP Stuart McMillan, Environment Minister Mike Russell (South of Scotland) and the FM. Labour were without Wendy Alexander, George Foulkes (Lothians), Shadow Sport Minister Frank McAveety (Glasgow Shettleston), Jack McConnell (Motherwell, Wishaw and - from next year, remember - Lilongwe) and Elaine Smith (Coatbridge & Chryston). The LibDems were doing without their Health Spokesman Ross Finnie (West of Scotland) and Justice Spokesperson Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West). Margo MacDonald decided to give her abstain button a rest.

So the 116 MSPs present first had to vote on a Labour amendment, which would have passed by acclaim had it not been for the Tories engaging in the utterly annoying practice of announcing that they don't agree (when the PO asks if members do agree), only to abstain when the division takes place. The vote duly passed by 100 votes (everyone but the Tories) to 0 with 16 Tory abstentions. One of these days I'm going to have a rant about that tactic, but not today.

The Tories, having forced a vote for no discernible reason other than to place on public record their ambivalence to Labour's amendment, then put forward an amendment of their own, which was voted on, and fell by 44 votes - the SNP and John Farquhar Munro (LibDem, Ross, Skye & Inverness West) - to 18 - the Tories and Greens - with 54 abstentions - Labour and the other LibDem MSPs. A LibDem amendment was waved through - no one had a burning desire to abstain on this one - as was the amended motion, which read:

That the Parliament recognises the unique relationship between Historic Scotland and local authorities in the protection of the nation's historic environment and welcomes initiatives to modernise and simplify that relationship to the benefit of local authorities, Historic Scotland and stakeholders, always ensuring that strong safeguards are maintained to protect heritage assets, that the skills required to maintain historic buildings are available and that, in protecting the historic environment, proper account is taken of disability rights and climate change objectives, and encourages Historic Scotland to work with local authorities to improve the consultation with local communities on the designation of listed buildings and scheduled monuments.

Following that, Thursday was quieter than usual - perhaps MSPs were stunned by Linda Fabiani's wardrobe-related bombshell - though a Government motion on International Education did get people going. Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead (Moray) was otherwise engaged, as were Labour's Shadow Finance Secretary Iain Gray (East Lothian), Shadow Transport Minister Des McNulty (Clydebank & Milngavie) and Peter Peacock (Highlands & Islands). The LibDems were without Ross Finnie and Margaret Smith for the second day, and also their Leader Nicol Stephen.

Anyway, the Labour amendment fell, by 64 (SNP/Tory/Green) votes to 57 (Labour/LibDem/Margo). The LibDem amendment passed by 58 (Labour/LibDem/Green) votes to 16 (Tories) with 47 (SNP/Margo) abstentions. The amended motion went through by 104 (SNP/Labour/LibDem/Green) votes to 16 (Tories) with one abstention (guess who?), and read:

That the Parliament recognises the importance of preparing young people for life in today's increasingly globalised society; agrees that all our young people should have an international education with opportunities to develop a knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it; congratulates the many schools across Scotland that have made and continue to make links with schools across the world; agrees that the Curriculum for Excellence is the ideal vehicle to deliver international education in schools and equip young people with an understanding of, and the skills for, the modern world, and calls for the Scottish Government to bring forward a comprehensive national languages strategy including a rolling programme to introduce a second language early into primary education and to secure economic benefit from the diverse language skills in a multicultural Scotland.

And after sitting through a debate where Alex Salmond was accused everything from letting Donald Trump make sweet love to him, to being personally responsible for NBC cancelling Star Trek, MSPs waved through the following motion from the Local Government & Communities Committee:

That the Parliament notes the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Local Government and Communities Committee's 5th Report, 2008 (Session 3): Planning Application Processes (Menie Estate) (SP Paper 73).

Finally, as promised, that Linda Fabiani exchange in full, from the Official Report:

Linda Fabiani: As Mr Peacock said, many issues must be considered. Research on road safety is being undertaken by the UK Government and the Scottish Government, and research is also being carried out in relation to climate change. We will, of course, consider examples and listen to the debate.

Members who are old enough will remember the approach being tried out—I think it was around about the late 1960s. I remember going to school in a transparent vest—[Laughter.] Excuse the memory—

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Fiona Hyslop): I think that the minister meant to say "translucent".

Linda Fabiani: Oh!

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): I think that appropriate language is called for at this point.

Linda Fabiani: I wonder whether my remark could be struck from the Official Report.

The Presiding Officer: It is more likely to be highlighted, minister.

Linda Fabiani: I was talking about those shiny vests that shone in the dark. [Laughter.]

The experiment was stopped after three years—that had nothing at all to do with my attire—because it was not thought to be advantageous to Scotland.

The Presiding Officer: We move swiftly on to question 2.


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