01 February 2009

The Sunday Whip

Well, I think we all know part of what happened this week, but it's only right that we should fill in the gaps.

So, firstly, on Wednesday, the Business Motions were waved through. And the following SSIs were passed without dissent:

The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 Modification Order 2009

The International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) (Scotland) Order 2009

The Private Landlord Registration (Modification) (Scotland) Order 2009

After that came the vote on the Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill, and we know what happened there: it tied at 64 (SNP/Tory/Margo) votes to 64 (Labour/LD/Greens), with the Presiding Officer casting his vote for the status quo - against the Bill.

Thursday, meanwhile, was a mixed bag for the Government, and there were four absentees: George Foulkes (Lab, Lothians), Hugh Henry (Lab, Paisley North), Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston - and it would seem that her persistent absence is indeed health-related), and Deputy FM Nicola Sturgeon (Glasgow Govan).

The first thing they missed was a revised Business Motion, which went through on the nod, as did a proposal to suspend part of the Standing Orders for consideration of the Budget (Scotland) (No.3) Bill. Following that came the Labour motion on Forestry, which faced a LibDem amendment and a Government amendment, which itself had a Tory amendment to it.

So we begin with the Tory amendment, which passed by 80 (SNP/Tory/LD/Green) to 42 - Labour voted against, though Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) missed this vote - with one abstention. You know who by now.

Then came the SNP amendment, which passed by 62 (SNP/Tory) to 61 (Labour/LD/Green) with one abstention. I have to say, at first glance, the idea of voting for an amendment, then against whatever it amends, goes against the grain a little, but on reflection, makes a bit more sense when you bear in mind that the amendment might make matters less unacceptable to a party, who might take the view that if something absolutely has to go through, it's better to pass in the amended form than the original. And, in this case, the passage of the SNP amendment pre-empted the LibDem one, so it was in their interest to oppose it in any form. They weren't successful, but I can see where they're coming from.

Anyway, the amended motion passed by 62 to 61 with one abstention - with the same party split as before:

That the Parliament notes the consultation on climate change and forestry that has just closed; welcomes the widespread agreement that there must be a significant planting increase to assist the process of combating climate change; is grateful to all those who brought a variety of ideas and views forward, and looks forward to a report to the Parliament on the outcome of the consultation and to subsequent detailed parliamentary scrutiny of any proposals brought forward as a result of the consultation.

Following that came the Labour motion on Transport Priorities, which was one in the eye for the Government and was an Opposition attempt to light a fire under various Ministers' arses, particularly Richard Lochhead, the Rural Affairs Secretary. The plan was simple: either he had to oppose a motion criticising the Government for not putting an Elgin Bypass (which he campaigned for) in its Transport Plan and potentially irk his constituents, or he had to support the motion, thus continuing the campaign in public, but resign as a Minister under the principle of collective responsibility. He opted for the former, so Labour do not have their Ministerial scalp but Opposition parties will doubtless be leaflet-bombing Moray over the matter.

Anyway. The Government amendment to the motion fell by 75 (Lab/Tory/LD) to 46 (SNP) with three (Green/Margo) abstentions. The Tory amendment passed by 121 (the Big 4) to 2 (Greens) with one abstention. The LibDem amendment, meanwhile passed by 75 (Lab/Tory/LD) to 46 (SNP) with three abstentions, and the amended motion passed by 75 (Labour/Tory/LD) to 48 (SNP/Green) with one abstention:

That the Parliament notes that the Strategic Transport Projects Review lacks detail on timescales and does not commit the Scottish Government to deliver a programme of expenditure for the vast majority of the projects identified; also notes the concern of communities along the length of the A82, A77, A9, A90 and A96 that no indication has been given as to when their needs for road improvements will be addressed; notes in particular the disappointment of people in Elgin, Inverness and Maybole who were led to believe by the SNP prior to the 2007 election that their bypass schemes would be given priority by an SNP government; reminds ministers of the principle of collective responsibility and the need to ensure that communities are not misled about the Scottish Government's intentions and, while recognising that the new Forth Replacement Crossing is an overriding priority for Scotland, and calls on the Scottish Government to state its priorities by reference to the projects listed in the Strategic Transport Projects Review and others identified by regional transport partnerships and local authorities as having a major regional significance.

So after that embarrassment for the Government, a little consensus was welcome, and it came in the shape of an SNP motion on the Gaelic language plan, where both a Labour amendment and the motion itself passed without dissent:

That the Parliament recognises that Gaelic is an integral part of Scotland's heritage, national identity and current cultural life; welcomes and supports the launch of the consultation on the Scottish Government's draft Gaelic Language Plan; acknowledges the work being carried out on the implementation of other Gaelic language plans by Argyll and Bute Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Edinburgh City Council, Glasgow City Council, Highland Council, the Scottish Parliament and Highland and Islands Enterprise; further welcomes the boost to the language provided by the establishment of BBC Alba, and calls for continued investment in and expansion of Gaelic-medium education.

So that's another week gone. And for now, at least, Parliament is still here, rather than in Election mode. And let me be direct: these stats will come in handy whenever an election is called: it will give us an opportunity to compare parties (and incumbent candidates) directly. Knowledge, after all, is power...

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