11 January 2009

The Sunday Whip

Well, once again, we're back with the Whip, and we appear to have picked up where we left off in terms of the old routine, with Wednesday being largely consensual, and Thursday showing a little more partisan antagonism, though even that was put on hold briefly, as we will see.

Anyway, Wednesday saw the usual easy passage of the Business Motions, and the only substantive business was the Government motion on national qualifications. It was missed by Cathie Craigie (Lab, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth), LibDem Health Spokesman Ross Finnie (West of Scotland), Labour's Shadow Rural Development Spokesperson Karen Gillon (Clydesdale, maternity leave), Tricia Marwick (SNP, Central Fife), Duncan McNeil (Lab, Greenock & Inverclyde), Environment Minister Mike Russell (South of Scotland) and Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston).

The only vote to be take was on the Labour amendment, which fell by 63 (SNP/Tory/Green) votes to 42 (Labour) with sixteen abstentions (LibDems/Margo).

The Tory and LibDem amendments, together with the motion itself, were waved through:

That the Parliament recognises the importance of developing the next generation of national qualifications in Scotland in line with the aims, vision and values of the Curriculum for Excellence, with its emphasis on equipping all young people to respond to the demands of the 21st century through developing their capacities as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors; further recognises the funding, resourcing and training implications of such a move; acknowledges the challenges and opportunities in taking forward the findings of the national consultation exercise and the key role to be played by local authorities, schools, colleges, universities and others in ensuring that we develop a system that meets the expectations of society, in which robust and credible assessment supports good learning and teaching and all young people have the opportunity to acquire the skills, knowledge and experience that they require to take their places in a modern society and economy, and, in particular, recognises the need to ensure that pupils in Scotland are properly schooled and tested in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy by the end of primary 7 and also to ensure that the qualifications structure better reflects the specific needs of all pupils, whether they wish to pursue courses that are more academically focused or more vocationally focused.

Thursday had a little more needle, though not as much as on previous occasions, and there was some scope for consensus. It was missed by Wendy Alexander (Lab, Paisley North), Shadow Higher & Further Education Minister Claire Baker (Mid Scotland & Fife), Ross Finnie, Karen Gillon, Duncan McNeil, Mike Russell, Elaine Smith and Jamie Stone (LD, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross).

The first votes were on Homecoming Scotland. A Labour amendment to the Government motion fell by 62 (SNP/Tory) votes to 55 (Labour/LD) with three (Green/Margo) abstentions, but Tory and LibDem amendments, along with the amended motion, were passed without dissent:

That the Parliament supports Scotland's first ever homecoming celebration; recognises that the spectacular calendar of events and activities taking place this year from the weekend around Burns Night to St Andrew's Day will make for a unique year for all those joining the celebrations, including the people living in Scotland, the diaspora Scots and those with an affinity for Scotland who visit in 2009, and further recognises the potential for Homecoming Scotland 2009 to boost international and domestic tourism in support of the Scottish economy at this time; recognises that ensuring a lasting economic legacy will depend on capturing information on those who visit during the Year of Homecoming with a view to creating a substantial marketing database for engaging with the diaspora Scots going forward; further recognises that individual tourism providers will be the engines of economic growth generated as a result of the Homecoming, and urges the Scottish Government to ensure that the industry be fully engaged throughout and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward details of its plans to promote Homecoming in Scotland, the United Kingdom and abroad in order to achieve maximum economic benefit from the celebrations.

Next came the Government motion on the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip. This is one of those issues where you don't really want party politics to get in the way, and MSPs didn't disappoint, the motion was waved through:

That the Parliament expresses its concern over the loss of all lives in the conflict in Gaza; joins the international community in calling for a ceasefire; acknowledges the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza; recognises and welcomes the role being played by those in Scotland involved in the humanitarian response, and supports the work of all charities and NGOs in Scotland that are responding to this situation.

The motion on Protecting Scotland's Communities, however, did re-expose those old partisan faultlines, but did, on the quiet, highlight just how minority government works, and really promoted the whole "issue-by-issue" approach to government. In a week where everyone's been talking about the Budget, and economic issues, we've seen that the SNP and Tories aren't exactly a world away, and that Labour and the LibDems are a little more hostile (though, surprisingly, it's the LibDems who are out on a limb, and Labour who fancy engaging with the Government). On issues around justice and community safety, however, we see an alternative SNP/LD/Green axis in full swing, with Labour and the Tories more likely to be singing from relatively similar hymn sheets. And so it proved on Thursday: the Labour amendment fell by 79 (everyone but Labour) votes to 41; Shadow Culture Minister Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) went walkabout for the Tory amendment which fell by 63 (SNP/LD/Green/Margo) votes to 56 (Labour/Tories). McNeill was back for the LibDem amendment, but Shadow Public Health Minister Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland & Fife) had gone a-wandering instead, so that passed by 62 (SNP/LD/Green) votes to 56 (Lab/Con) with her Margo-ness abstaining. Finally, Richard Simpson came back, but Kenneth Gibson (SNP, Cunninghame North) seemed to walk out early. This didn't stop the amended Government motion passing by 62 (SNP/LD/Green/Margo) votes to 57 (Lab/Con):

That the Parliament welcomes the publication on 17 December 2008 of Protecting Scotland's Communities: Fair, Fast and Flexible Justice, which sets out the Scottish Government's strategy to deliver a coherent offender management strategy built on a robust regime of community penalties and payback and proportionate management of offenders sentenced to prison; recognises that community sentences that are completed speedily and enforced with rigour offer greater benefits to communities and individuals than short prison sentences and that their planned expansion must be adequately resourced; calls on the Scottish Government to incorporate in its offender management strategy effective action to tackle the underlying causes of crime and factors and circumstances known to have a link with offending behaviour; reaffirms the importance of judicial independence free from executive direction, and looks forward to constructive engagement with the Scottish Government on the detailed implementation of the programme.

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