15 February 2009

The Sunday Whip

A mixed week, this, with sobriety, consensus, defeat, embarrassment a casting vote and a little bit of deal-breaking to spice things up.

Anyway. Wednesday started with a motion without notice (which was nodded through), to allow the Motion of Condolence for Bashir Ahmad to be taken at that meeting. After the Business Motions were waved through, the Motion of Condolence was passed:

That the Parliament expresses its deep regret and sadness at the death of Bashir Ahmad MSP; offers its sympathy and condolences to Bashir's family and friends, and believes that as the first Scots-Asian Member of the Scottish Parliament, and a man of faith and dignity, his contribution to Scotland's democratic process and community relations over many years leaves a hugely positive legacy for all of Scotland.

Following that came the vote on the Local Government Finance Act 1992 (Scotland) Order 2009. There were a few absentees for this: Wendy Alexander (Lab, Paisley North), Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Rhona Brankin (Midlothian), Gavin Brown (Con, Lothians), Labour's Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), Trish Godman (Lab, West Renfrewshire), Tory Leader Annabel Goldie (West of Scotland), Robin Harper (Green, Lothians), Hugh Henry (Lab, Paisley South - must have been a Renfrewshire day out), Margaret Mitchell (Con, Central Scotland), Labour's Shadow Environment Minister Elaine Murray (Dumfries), Tory Rural Affairs Spokesman John Scott (Ayr) and Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston). They missed the Order pass, by 99 (everyone but the LibDems) to 1 - Nicol Stephen (LD, Aberdeen South) with 15 abstentions (the rest of the LibDems).

Following that, the Non-Domestic Rating (Petrol Filling Stations, Public Houses and Hotels) (Scotland) Order 2009 was waved through.

Thursday, meanwhile, saw the debut of Anne McLaughlin as an MSP, and the only absentee was Elaine Smith. The first vote taken was on the appointment of the new Junior Ministers: this passed by 48 (SNP/Margo) votes to 0 with 78 abstentions: Labour, the Tories, LibDems and Greens - the latter breaking a deal with the SNP by abstaining, as I explained on Friday. Murdo Fraser withdrew an amendment to remove Alex Neil from the list of new Ministers.

Following that, we had the stramash on Labour's Healthcare Associated Infections motion. A Government amendment passed by 79 (SNP/Tories/LibDems) to 45 (Labour) with three (Greens/Margo) abstentions. The LibDem amendment saw a defeat for the Government that perhaps need not have happened: it passed by 63 (Labour/LibDems/Greens) votes to 62 (SNP plus all bar one of the Tories) with two abstentions: Margo and Alex Johnstone (Con, NE Scotland). Whether or not Alex Johnstone intended to break with the rest of his Party, and if so, why, is not known, but the reality is that by doing so, he allowed the motion to be passed against his colleagues' wishes: his vote would have brought it to a tie, and so the Presiding Officer's casting vote for the status quo (i.e. no amendment) would have kicked in.

Which is exactly what happened on the amended motion: Labour's Shadow Culture Secretary Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) went walkabout and so the vote tied 63 to 63, with Labour, the LibDems, Greens and Margo in favour and the SNP and Tories on the other. Obviously, the casting vote was cast in favour of the status quo - so no motion - and the motion fell, which would not have been the case had McNeill cast her vote (assuming she would have voted with her party). So the Government's (and the Tories') blushes were spared, but they became the Parliament's blushes, as members failed to reach a position on the rather serious matter of healthcare associated infections. The embarrassment is compounded by the fact that the Government amendment removed the original text of the motion (with the exception of the words "That the Parliament"), so the Chamber had already voted on all but three words of the motion as amended, and voted in favour of them, yet still voted not to pass the motion. The words "stark", "raving" and "tonto" spring to mind.

Anyway, the vague approximation of sanity was restored for Labour's Housing motion, at which point McNeill was back in the Chmaber: a Tory amendment fell by 94 (SNP/Labour/Greens) votes to 33 (Tories/LibDems/Margo), but the motion itself was waved through:

That the Parliament notes the growing crisis in Scottish housing with rising numbers of repossessions, the continuing challenge of homelessness and the falling number of houses being built; calls on the Scottish Government to ensure the urgent and effective implementation of the accelerated spending programme, introduce a realistic housing association grant formula and negotiate with the housing association movement a range of flexible models of procurement, and further calls on the Scottish Government to examine, as a matter of urgency, alternative means of expediting the provision of land and infrastructure and the regeneration of communities.

After that, Stage 1 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill went through on the nod, as did the Bill's Financial Resolution, along with a change to the SNP Committee line-up, based on a number of Committee members being elevated to Government office.

So that was this week. Next week is a recess, for the half-term holiday - which also goes to explain why we're so short-staffed at work next week. Tch. I got left with Grandad during half-term, and it didn't do me any harm!

1 comment:

Ted Harvey said...

Good to see the crucial term ‘regeneration of communities’ being spoken of in the same sentence as ‘housing’ in the Labour Housing motion.

An inconvenient fact that our policy makers must face up to is that producing housing, no matter of how high a quality, in the absence of neighbourhood, area and national regeneration strategies is just chucking (huge) sums of public expenditure to the wind and hoping it ‘does some good’.

Much of the immense investment in affordable housing (that’s social housing to some) in deprived neighbourhoods over the past three decades has in effect imprisoned chronically poor and disadvantaged people in chronically poor and disadvantaged neighbourhoods – thus ensuring that the problems pass onto the next generation in the form of their children trapped in the same situation.

The huge swarthes of new affordable housing developed in Glasgow’s East End over the recent decades demonstrates this, if you look from the (undoubtedly mostly good quality) newer housing and then look many of the people walking about, and look at the wider environment they are walking about in. Among the people and the wider environment you will see the searing evidence of poverty remaining unresolved.

That 'it needs more than housing' has been the great lesson from the GEAR programme onwards in Glasgow's East End.

This all applies despite the good quality housing that the highly rated housing associations produce. Things may well take a turn for the worse with a return to the… ahem… more doubtful stuff produced by local authorities.

For those who might say ‘but the local authorities don’t produce housing any more; you should watch this space. They are gearing themselves up to once again to be large scale providers… the Gods help us all if they have not learned from the more community-focused housing associations on how to design, build and manage housing in partnership with the people living in the communities (and some of us already fear they have not done so).