15 June 2008

The Sunday Whip

This was an ugly swine to check up, simply because of the sheer number of votes. Even Wednesday was busier than usual. The Business Motion passed without dissent, though the Small Business Bonus Scheme motion got a lot of attention. Well, it got attention from the 117 MSPs who were present at Decision Time. The missing eleven were: Bill Butler (Lab, Glasgow Anniesland), Bob Doris (SNP, Glasgow), Labour Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), Trish Godman (Lab, West Renfrewshire), Labour Shadow Public Services Secretary Andy Kerr (East Kilbride), Margo McDonald (Ind, Lothian), Irene Oldfather (Lab, Cunninghame North), Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston) and Iain Smith (LibDem, North East Fife). The FM makes up the football team as he was being the MP for Banff & Buchan down at Westminster.

Anyway, back to the Small Business Bonus Scheme motion. The Labour amendment fell, by 78 (everyone but Labour) votes to 39 (Labour). The Tory amendment passed by 78 (everyone but Labour) to 0 with 39 Labour MSPs incurring my wrath by challenging the amendment just to abstain (this always makes me want to hit someone, whoever does it). The LibDem amendment passed by 55 (most of Labour, all the present LibDems and the Greens) to 16 (the Tories) with 45 SNP MSPs all channeling the spirit of Margo MacDonald and abstaining, along with, of all people, Labour Chief Whip Michael McMahon (Hamilton North & Bellshill) who really ought to know which way he is supposed to vote. The amended motion passed by 79 - all of the non-Labour MSPs along with David Whitton (Lab, Strathkelvin & Bearsden) - to 0 with the remaining 38 Labour MSPs annoying me again. So the motion passed:

That the Parliament welcomes the introduction, on 1 April 2008, of the Small Business Bonus Scheme; notes that businesses have reacted positively to the scheme; believes that businesses themselves are best placed to decide how to use the reductions in business rates resulting from the scheme to invest in their own success and to deliver new opportunities, new employment and new ventures throughout Scotland; welcomes the acceleration of the business rate reductions announced during the Parliamentary budget process; calls on the Scottish Government, local authorities and business organisations to work together to ensure that eligible businesses are aware of and benefit from the reductions, and calls on the Scottish Government to commission an independent assessment in 2010 of the impact and effectiveness of the current and previous administrations' business rate reduction measures.

Aside from that, Parliament agreed without dissent that the Justice Committee should take charge of Patrick Harvie's Offences (Aggravated by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill at Stage 1, with the Equal Opps Committee having a look-in, while the Local Government & Communities Committee gets Stage 1 of Jackie Baillie's Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill. And Members then nodded through the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2008.

Thursday, meanwhile, overtook the record for number of votes taken in one afternoon, taking it to 14. Even just counting the thirteen taken at Decision Time, the record would still have been broken - it previously stood at twelve. A Business Motion was tabled just after lunch to plan out the debate on Stage 3 of the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Bill, which got nodded through. Then came the debate on the amendments. There was only one vote taken, on Amendment 1. Amendment 29 was withdrawn and 30 wasn't even moved, while everything else got nodded through.

There were a number of absences as well: Labour Leader Wendy Alexander (Paisley North), Bill Butler, Helen Eadie (Lab, Dunfermline East), Karen Gillon, Marlyn Glen (Lab, North East Scotland), Trish Godman, Hugh Henry (Lab, Paisley South), Margo MacDonald, Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw), David McLetchie (Con, Edinburgh Pentlands), Irene Oldfather, Environment Minister Mike Russell (South of Scotland), Alex Salmond, Elaine Smith, Iain Smith, Labour's Shadow Environment Minister David Stewart (Highlands & Islands) and Jim Tolson (LD, Dunfermline West). Anyway, Amendment 1 fell, by 47 (SNP/Green) votes to 29 (Tory/LibDem) with 35 Labour abstentions.

Then came Decision Time, and this is where things get headache-y. It was missed by Bill Butler, Karen Gillon, Marlyn Glen, Trish Godman, Jack McConnell, David McLetchie, Irene Oldfather, Mike Russell, Elaine Smith and Iain Smith.

We started with Labour's Education Cuts motion, which was an embarrassment for the Government. A Government amendment fell by 68 - Labour, Tory, LD, with Tory Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) missing - to 46 (SNP) with three (Green/Margo) abstentions. The Tory amendment fell by 102 (SNP/Labour/LD/Green) to 15 (Tories) with one abstention (guess who!). The LibDem amendment passed, by 71 (Labour/Tory/LD/Green) votes to 46 (SNP) with Margo abstaining. And the amended motion passed by 54 (Labour/LD) to 48 (SNP/Green) with 16 (Tories/Margo) abstentions:

That the Parliament recognises the lack of confidence expressed by parents, teachers, primary and secondary heads, and directors of education in the SNP government’s handling of Scottish education; notes with concern the cuts in education provision across Scotland; calls on the First Minister to clarify the cost and timescale for delivery of his class-sizes pledge, made on 5 September 2007, when he promised the Parliament that his class-sizes pledge on primaries 1 to 3 would be met in the lifetime of this parliament; recognises the growing number of teachers coming to the end of their probationary year who are either unable to find a teaching post or who are forced into taking part-time or temporary employment; worries that if this trend is allowed to continue unchecked, it will undermine the internationally recognised success of the teacher induction scheme; calls for immediate action from Scottish Ministers to address the impending jobs crisis; welcomes the assessment from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland that implementation of the SNP policy to cut class sizes to 18 in P1-P3 requires £360 million of capital for additional classrooms and £62 million of recurring revenue funding, and therefore calls on the First Minister to confirm to the Parliament whether his government believes that this is an accurate estimate and why.

Then came Labour's Bus Transport motion, which was an embarrassment for the Parliament. The Tory amendment faced a Government amendment, which passed by 61 (SNP/Tories) to 41 (Labour/Greens) with 16 (LibDems/Margo) abstentions. The amended amendment passed by 61 (SNP/Tories) to 56 (Labour/LibDems/Greens): Margo's abstain button packed in by this point, though it was back in action for the LibDem amendment which fell by 61 (SNP/Tories) to 56 (Labour/LibDems/Greens) with her abstention. Then came that rare beast, a Green amendment: it passed by 86 - the SNP, Labour and Greens, though Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP, Lothian) had popped out) - to 15 (Tories) with 16 (LibDems/Margo) abstentions. Problem is, the amended motion then fell, by 68 - Labour, Tories and the LibDems, with Labour's Shadow Transport Minister Des McNulty (Clydebank & Milngavie) going AWOL - to 48 (SNP/Greens) with Margo abstaining. As such, Parliament ended up taking no position on Bus Transport, but took five sets of votes to do so.

Then it got worse: the Corporate Body's Expenses Scheme motion came up, and was complicated by the LibDems holding the first free vote of Session 3 at Holyrood. As such, I'll have to name them individually, but I'll start by saying that from the LibDems, Liam McArthur (Orkney), Finance Spokesman Tavish Scott (Shetland) and Leader Nicol Stephen (Aberdeen South) all opted to do a runner, a stance I support after following this set of votes.

An amendment raised by Tricia Marwick, the SNP's dissenting representative to the SPCB faced two amendments. The first was by Labour, and fell by 74 votes - the SNP, Tories, Greens, Margo and all bar two of the remaining LibDems (in this case, I won't bother naming the ten remaining to vote against the amendment) - to 39 (Labour) with two LibDem abstentions: John Farquhar Munro (Ross, Skye & Inverness West) and Jim Tolson. The next amendment was also a first for Session 3: it was raised by Margo MacDonald. It fell, by 105 - SNP, Labour (with one exception), Tories, Greens and for the LibDems: Robert Brown (Glasgow), Health Spokesman Ross Finnie (West of Scotland), Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) and Education Spokesman Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale) - to 7 - Margo, Peter Peacock (Lab, Highalnds & Islands) and LibDems Jim Hume (South of Scotland), Hugh O'Donnell (Central Scotland), Mike Pringle (Edinburgh South), Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine) and Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross). There were three LibDem abstentions: John Farquhar Munro, Justice Spokeswoman Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) and Jim Tolson.

This left the amendment untouched, and it passed by 69 votes - SNP, Tories, Greens, Margo, along with Robert Brown, Ross Finnie, Jim Hume, Alison McInnes and Hugh O'Donnell (all Regional MSPs, note) - to 44 - Labour plus Mike Pringle, Jeremy Purvis, Mike Rumbles, Margaret Smith and Jamie Stone (all Constituency MSPs). Messrs. Munro and Tolson abstained again. This caused another Margo MacDonald amendment to fall.

For the final vote on the amended motion, Mike Rumbles and Jamie Stone decided enough was enough and headed for the exits. They missed the motion passing by 69 (the same 69 who voted for Tricia Marwick's amendment) to 42 (the remaining 42 who had voted against it) with two abstentions (Munro and Tolson):

That the Parliament recognises that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body ("the SPCB") commissioned and received a report from an independent review panel on the reimbursement of expenses for Members of the Scottish Parliament, notes the SPCB’s responsibility to present a scheme to Parliament, and therefore;

(a) by virtue of sections 81(2) and (5)(b) and 83(5) of the Scotland Act 1998

(i) confers functions on the SPCB to pay allowances to members in respect of expenses or costs incurred in each financial year in accordance with the Reimbursement of Members’ Expenses Scheme ("the Scheme") annexed as Annex 1 to this resolution and confers other functions on the SPCB as specified in the Scheme;

(ii) determines that the various limits on expenses or costs under the Scheme are as set out in the Schedule of Rates annexed as Annex 2 to this resolution and that such limits are applicable until the SPCB exercises its power under the Scheme to uprate or vary them;

(iii) determines that the Scheme shall come into effect on 1 October 2008, subject to any arrangements made under sub-paragraph (vi);

(iv) directs the SPCB to make such arrangements as it may consider necessary or expedient to allow transition from the Members’ Allowances Scheme agreed to by resolution of the Parliament on 21 June 2001 ("the Previous Scheme") to the Scheme, including, but not limited to, continuing in force any provisions of the Previous Scheme beyond 1 October 2008, making apportionments between the Previous Scheme and the Scheme or making arrangements for particular cases or particular classes of case as appropriate;

(v) directs the SPCB that any transitional arrangements which it determines under sub-paragraph (iv) shall end not later than 31 March 2011; and

(vi) directs the SPCB to make such arrangements as it may consider necessary or expedient to apply the limit on entitlement to reimbursement of staff salary costs with effect from a date before 1 October 2008, whether by adjusting the amount of the Members’ Support Allowance under the Previous Scheme or by backdating reimbursement of staff salary costs under the Scheme;

(b) rescinds, with effect from 1 October 2008, the Resolution of the Parliament of 21 June 2001 in relation to the Equipment and Furniture Scheme;

(c) subject to any arrangements made under paragraph (a) above, rescinds, with effect from 1 October 2008, the Resolution of the Parliament of 21 June 2001 in relation to the Previous Scheme.

Finally, with MSPs exhausted into submission, the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Bill was passed.

Now, time to lie down in a darkened room.

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