16 November 2008

The Sunday Whip

A busy week, perhaps to overcompensate for last week's Parliamentary desert. But it was a successful one for the Government, so Bruce Crawford will be a happy bunny.

Anyway, ten MSPs missed Wednesday's proceedings: Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Rhona Brankin (Midlothian), Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale, still on maternity leave), Tory Leader Annabel Goldie (West of Scotland), Labour's Shadow Parliamentary Business Minister Michael McMahon (Hamilton North & Bellshill), Shadow Europe Minister Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin), Hugh O'Donnell (LD, Central Scotland), Irene Oldfather (Lab, Cunninghame South), Mike Pringle (LD, Edinburgh South), LibDem Leader Tavish Scott (Shetland - him and Bella off on the same day... should I start a rumour?) and Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston).

They missed the customary nodding through of the Business Motion and the waving through of Stage 1 of the Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Bill, along with its Financial Resolution.

After those shenanigans came the votes on the Government's motion on the Scottish economy. The Labour amendment fell by 75 (SNP/Tory/LD) votes to 40 (Labour) with three abstentions (Greens/Margo), but the Tory amendment passed by 63 (SNP/Tory/Margo) votes to 53 (Labour/LD) with two Green abstentions. The LibDem amendment got a cuffing, falling by 105 (everyone else) votes to 13, while the amended motion passed by 62 (SNP/Tory) votes to 53 (Labour/LD) with three (Greens/Margo) abstentions:

That the Parliament notes the impact of the global economic slowdown on families, individuals and businesses across Scotland; notes the actions already taken by the Scottish Government but believes that the current recession is in part attributable to the mismanagement of the UK economy by the present UK Government and the era of irresponsibility over which it has presided, evidenced by the record levels of government borrowing, regulatory failure and the taxation of pension schemes, which has discouraged saving and investment, and welcomes the measures approved by this Parliament, such as business rates relief and the council tax freeze, which will help businesses and households to maximise jobs and investment and provide a basis for Scotland to take early and speedy advantage of any recovery.

Thursday, however, was far busier, and missed by eight MSPs: Karen Gillon, Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw), David McLetchie (Con, Edinburgh Pentlands), Hugh O'Donnell, Mike Pringle, Peter Peacock (Lab, Highlands & Islands) and Elaine Smith.

They missed a Labour motion on Energy Efficiency, which saw a rather strange alliance of parties: a Green amendment passed by 91 (SNP/Labour/Green - very rare) votes to 15 (Tories) with 14 LibDem abstentions. The amended motion passed by 90 - the same, though Bill Kidd (SNP, Glasgow) missed this one - to 15, with the 14 LibDems abstaining again:

That the Parliament recognises the significant role that energy efficiency and microgeneration measures could have in reducing energy costs for householders and businesses, in achieving urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050 and contributing to the eradication of fuel poverty by 2016; notes that research carried out by the Energy Savings Trust suggests that widespread installation of microgeneration could provide 30 to 40% of our electricity needs by 2050 but that current investment in energy efficiency and microgeneration measures is insufficient to achieve these goals; calls on the Scottish Government to take steps, as set out in the Energy Efficiency and Microgeneration Bill proposals, such as fiscal incentives for householders and businesses, to ensure that microgeneration technologies become widely available and used and to consider other energy efficiency measures for new and existing housing stock to tackle fuel poverty, climate change and security of energy supply; notes the evidence given by Friends of the Earth Scotland to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee suggesting that an additional £100 million per annum would be a welcome change to the draft budget for 2009-10, and calls on the Scottish Government to consider a comprehensive and fully funded Scotland-wide scheme on this scale to provide energy audits, insulation provision and financial support for micro-renewables where appropriate.

Of course, it's rare for both the SNP and Labour to be happy, and it wouldn't last, as was borne out by the votes on Health Funding. The Government amendment passed by 64 (SNP/Tory/Green) to 42 (Labour) with 14 LibDem abstentions, and the amended motion passed by 65 to 41 with 14 abstentions. The change was caused by George Foulkes (Lab, Lothians), who doubtless pressed the wrong button and ended up supporting the SNP's version of the motion, which must be especially embarrassing for Labour's most notorious rent-a-gob (well, he is, let's be honest here!), when it read as follows:

That the Parliament notes that the Scottish Government's spending plans are set against the background of the 2007 spending review settlement from the UK Treasury that represents the lowest increase for Scotland since devolution; recognises that the NHS has received a fair share of the financial settlement and that the Scottish Government is increasing spending on health in Scotland; further recognises that in this context it is right that the NHS should strive to make sure that resources are spent as efficiently as possible; commends the NHS's record in achieving efficiency savings linked to good quality care; welcomes the Scottish Government's decision to continue the practice whereby all efficiency savings generated by the NHS will be retained by the NHS for local reinvestment in frontline services, and condemns the Labour Party, which instituted efficiency savings while in government but has irresponsibly attacked them in opposition.

Moving swiftly on, the votes on the Scottish Futures Trust went the Government's way as well: a Labour amendment to the SNP motion fell by 64 (SNP/Tory/Green) to 56 (Labour/LD) votes, as did the LibDem amendment. The Tory amendment passed by 64 to 56, as did the amended motion:

That the Parliament agrees that modern infrastructure is essential to economic well-being and excellent public services in Scotland; notes actions to invest in public infrastructure set out in the Scottish Government’s £35 billion Infrastructure Investment Plan; notes efforts to promote collaboration among public authorities and agencies in planning and developing capital projects to maximise value for money; believes that identifying and managing risk effectively through the capital project life cycle and providing a range of approaches to structuring and financing infrastructure investment are important objectives to be pursued, and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that the Scottish Futures Trust makes a full contribution to these objectives.

Following that, an LCM was nodded through, concerning Part 2 and amendments to Part 5 of the Energy Bill.

MSPs then waved through the establishment of the Review of SPCB-supported Bodies Committee, and its membership, and a new Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Bill Committee to guide the Bill through Stage 2. Its Convener will be Keith Brown and its Deputy Convener David Stewart, with supporting roles from Bill Aitken and Nicol Stephen.

Of course, you probably spotted that its Convener is currently Convener of the Standards, Procedures & Public Appointments Committee. Well, the next motion has seen to that: he's moving to the European & External Relations Committee, with Gil Paterson quitting that to take Keith Brown's place at Standards. Oh, and he's also leaving the Subordinate Legislation Committee (he's free!) to be replaced by Bob Doris (who has obviously offended someone). Oh, and Aileen Campbell replaces Christina McKelvie on the Standards Committee as well.

Next, MSPs apporved the replacement of Jamie McGrigor with Nanette Milne at Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments - meaning that the Committee has been torn to shreds in the space of two painful months in its life. And the whole Committee-based carnage ended with two more nodded-through motions on Committee Substitutes.

Never mind, it's over now. For another week, at least.

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