01 June 2008

The Sunday Whip

Normality - such as it is - was restored to Holyrood this week, with Wednesday displaying its usual uncontentious tone. Only two things were put forward: the first was the Business Motion (or at least a revised version of it), and the second was the Fundable Bodies (The Scottish Agricultural College) (Scotland) Order 2008. Both were waved through.

Thursday, however, was a little more demented, and I'm not just talking about Mike Russell's closing speech in the Moving Scotland Forward debate ('cute' is not a word I'd ever use to describe Labour members, but, hey, who am I to judge?).

Anyway, despite asserting that he just wanted to get through that debate and go home, Mike Russell did at least stay to vote. Four members, however, gave it a miss: Cathie Craigie (Lab, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth), Hugh Henry (Lab, Paisley North), Labour Deputy Leader Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley) and Margo MacDonald.

The first thing they missed was the set of votes on the Common Agricultural Policy health check. The Labour amendment was waved through. The Tory and LibDem amendments passed by 79 (SNP/Tory/LibDem) to 2 (Green) with 43 (Labour) abstentions - clearly they felt they had to fill the Margo-shaped void in proceedings. The amended motion passed by 122 (everyone but the Greens) to 0 with two Green abstentions (By the way, have I ever mentioned how much I hate people challenging the motion only to abstain? Of course I have. But I like mentioning it.):

That the Parliament, noting the European Commission's legislative proposals for the health check of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, welcomes the Scottish Government's commitment to consult on these proposals, and on the longer-term implementation of CAP in Scotland, in order that agriculture remains a dynamic and competitive industry playing its full part in ensuring the long-term viability of our rural communities and enabling farmers to play their part in achieving the Scottish Government's purpose of sustainable economic growth through food production, high standards of animal welfare and the environmental management of our agricultural land but, in so doing, notes the importance of consulting on the potential impact of progressive modulation on Scottish farms and affirms that any increases in European Union-wide modulation should be matched by a corresponding deduction in levels of voluntary modulation; considers that any increase in compulsory modulation must be offset by a corresponding reduction in voluntary modulation to ensure that Scottish producers are not put at a competitive disadvantage within the European Union; further considers that Scotland, with its high proportion of large farm units, must not be disadvantaged by proposals for progressive modulation or capping; believes that, in light of rapidly escalating food and fuel costs, the Scottish Rural Development Programme should be reviewed, with the production of food and food security considered as a key priority, and recognises the correlation between economic activity on the ground and delivery of environmental benefits for all.

After that relative tranquility, the Moving Scotland Forward votes were rather ugly for the Government, though will not have been a surprise as it would appear that the opposition members of the Parliamentary Bureau (most notably Robert Brown) were more enthusiastic about the debate taking place than Ministers (most notably Mike Russell) were. Tory Rural Affairs Spokesman John Scott (Ayr) missed the votes on the amendments - though was back for the final vote on the motion - and the amendments betrayed that one party was split exactly down the middle. Fair enough, it was the Greens, who have only two members anyway, but the vote on the amendments revealed that one of them is slightly more supportive of the SNP than the other. A miscommunication or a genuine disagreement? Either way, this could become an issue.

Anyway. The Labour amendment itself faced a Tory amendment, which passed by 74 (Labour/Tory/LibDem) votes to 48 (SNP & Glasgow's Green Patrick Harvie) with one abstention (Robin Harper). The amended amendment went on to pass by 58 (Labour and the Tories) to 48 (SNP and Patrick Harvie again) with 17 abstentions (LibDems and Robin Harper). The passage of the Labour amendment pre-empted a LibDem one, so we went straight to the vote on the amended motion, which passed by 75 (Labour/Tory/LibDems) to 49 (SNP and the re-united Greens):

That the Parliament condemns the self-congratulation and lack of positive policies for the future in the First Minster's statement on Moving Scotland Forward on 14 May 2008; recognises the many SNP broken promises on a whole range of manifesto commitments, from dumping student debt to providing a £2,000 grant to first-time buyers; calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward substantive policies to address climate change, skills development, affordable housing shortages, health inequalities and the other big challenges that confront Scotland, and further calls on the Scottish Government to work constructively with Her Majesty's Government on these and other issues for the benefit of the Scottish people, thus demonstrating the benefits of our historic union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a union which continues to attract overwhelming public support.

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