18 January 2009

The Sunday Whip

An odd week, this one. It had moments of consensus, but there was a "Yes, but..." feel to it. there were also moments of confrontation, but they too seemed a little muted. Oh well.

Anyway, Wednesday had only one vote (the Business Motion was waved through, as usual), and it was the biggie: Stage 1 of the Budget (Scotland) (No.2) Bill. The only absentees were from Labour: Cathie Craigie (Cumbernauld & Kilsyth) - who doubtless was trying to avoid a repeat of last year, when quite inadvertantly, she became the sole voice of opposition to the previous Budget - Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) - who is still on maternity leave - Elaine Smith (Coatbridge & Chryston) - whose last voted in the Chamber more than three months ago, on 8 October: does anyone in Lanarkshire Labour circles know what's happened to her? - and Shadow Children's Minister Karen Whitefield (Airdrie & Shotts).

They missed the Budget clearing Stage 1 quite comfortably, by 107 (SNP/Labour/Tories/Greens) to 16 (the LibDems - who aren't against A Budget being passed, but just don't like THIS one, which I thought was an argument for voting in favour at Stage 1 and against in Stage 3, instead of voting to kill the process at the first available moment, but there you go), with Margo abstaining as per usual. The Bill spends next week in the Finance Committee and all being well, should return to the Chamber for Stage 3 the following week.

Thursday saw the same sort of mixed bag: first came Stage 1 of the Health Boards (Membership and Elections) (Scotland) Bill, and a LibDem amendment to the motion passing it. Both were nodded through:

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Health Boards (Membership and Elections) (Scotland) Bill but, in so doing, noting the terms of the Health and Sport Committee's Stage 1 report, calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward, ahead of Stage 3, firm proposals for the piloting of a variety of alternative schemes to improve public participation and shares the committee's view that such agreement to the general principles should not be taken to pre-empt any decision that the Parliament may later be asked to take on the rolling out of direct elections to health boards nationwide.

This suggests that while no one is particularly hostile to the idea of elections for health board members - though the debate did suggest a level of scepticism in some circles - the Bill might have a slightly rougher passage through Stages 2 and 3. But the Financial Resolution passed without any argument.

Finally, came the niggle: the Government motion on the Forth Crossing. Again, the only absentees at Decision Time were from Labour: Cathie Craigie, Karen Gillon, Shadow Culture Minister Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin), Shadow Housing Minister Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow) and Elaine Smith. So it's only fitting that the first amendment to the motion should come from their party. It fell, by 64 (SNP/Tories/Margo) to 43 (Labour/Greens) with 16 LibDem abstentions, though the Tory position was to vote against any amendment which removed the line opposing a toll on the new bridge, and I suspect that the LibDems only abstained as success for the Labour amendment would have fallen automatically. The Tory amemdment (which boiled down to "Why can't we all just get along?") passed without argument, but the LibDem amendment, which survived the procedural threat, didn't survive the vote, falling by 66 (SNP/Tories/Greens/Margo) to 57 (Labour/LibDems). The amended motion hen went on to pass by 121 votes (everyone but the Greens) to 2:

That the Parliament notes the Scottish Government's choice of conventional capital funding for construction of the Forth Replacement Crossing and welcomes the fact that Scotland's biggest infrastructure project for a generation will be delivered without the need for tolls, and calls on the Scottish and UK governments to work together to ensure that the new crossing is delivered at the earliest possible opportunity.

So that's this week sorted. And seriously, where is Elaine Smith?

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