08 March 2009

The Sunday Whip

This week, we had the usual mix of Wednesday consensus and Thursday bunfighting, with a couple of twists: firstly, a three-party mugging of the Government - something which, despite the Government's minority status and frequent looking at the wrong end of a Parliamentary division, is surprisingly rare (indeed, you have to go back to October to find a motion and amendments where the SNP found itself up against the three main Opposition parties on every relevant vote) - and secondly, a Committee motion which saw amendments that not everyone liked the look of.

Anyway. Wednesday saw no votes taken: the Business Motions were waved through, Stage 1 of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill achieved consensus, as did the LCM on the relevant section of the UK Parliament's Policing and Crime Bill. Finally, Parliament declared itself universally happy with the idea of the Health & Sport Committee taking the lead in scrutinising the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill at Stage 1. So everyone was happy.

Thursday, on the other hand, was a different story, which is no surprise when the first (Labour) motion was entitled "Scottish Government Failures". The absentees were: Ted Brocklebank (Con, Mid Scotland & Fife), Parliamentary Business Minister Bruce Crawford (Stirling), Labour's Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), Charlie Gordon (Lab, Glasgow Cathcart), Jamie McGrigor (Highlands & Islands), John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West, and packed off to Germany where he could put his party in any number of difficult positions and no one would notice) Public Health Minister Shona Robison (Dundee East) and Labour's Shadow Public Health Minister Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland & Fife).

That first motion didn't go well: the SNP amendment fell by 74 (Labour/Tory/LD/Green) votes to 45 with one Margo-shaped abstention. The LibDem amendment - the one that said that we're not allowed to talk about certain things while there's a recession on... I didn't realise that was a Liberal or a Democratic sentiment, but there you go - passed by 72 (Labour/Tory/LD) votes to 47 (SNP/Greens) with one abstention (guess who), and the full package passed with the same figures:

That the Parliament notes that SNP manifesto promises have been broken on a wide range of issues including health, housing, community safety and education; further notes the absence of a credible strategy to address the needs of people facing difficult economic circumstances and to tackle poverty and disadvantage; regrets that the Scottish Government prefers to focus its attention on the powers it does not have in order to pursue its party's agenda of separation; urges the Scottish Government to examine how it might effectively use the powers at its disposal to meet the needs of people by sustaining economic activity and employment and supporting communities across Scotland, and calls on the Scottish Government to concentrate its efforts on economic recovery and abandon its divisive plans for a Referendum Bill for the remainder of its term of office.

Next came the Local Government and Communities Committee's motion on the National Planning Framework 2. This faced amendments from Labour and the Tories, with the latter amendment itself facing a potential re-draft at the hands of the Liberal Democrats. The Labour amendment went through on the nod, and the LibDem amendment to the Tory amendment passed by 65 votes - the SNP, most of the LibDems, the Greens, Margo, and three Labour MSPs: Marlyn Glen (North East Scotland), Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) and Elaine Smith (Coatbridge & Chryston) - to 54 - the remaining 40 Labour MSPs and the Tories - with Jamie Stone (LD, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) abstaining.

The amended Tory amendment also passed, by 64 - the SNP, the LibDems minus Stone, the Greens, Margo, Marlyn Glen and Elaine Smith - to 14 (the Tories) with 42 abstentions: the remaining Labour MSPs (Cathy Peattie reverted to voting with her party) and Jamie Stone. The amended Committee motion then passed by 62 (the SNP, the LibDems minus Stone, Margo, Marlyn Glen and Elaine Smith) to 16 (the Tories and Greens - why vote for the amendments, only to oppose the amended motion?) with 42 abstentions (the remaining Labour MSPs plus Stone):

That the Parliament agrees that the Local Government and Communities Committee's 5th Report, 2009 (Session 3): National Planning Framework for Scotland 2: Proposed Framework (SP Paper 218), together with the Official Report of the Parliament's debate on the report, should form the Parliament's response to the Scottish Government on the Proposed Framework; supports the inclusion of the high-speed rail link between Scotland and London on the list of designated national developments; recommends that the Scottish Government ensures that both interim and long-term targets for reducing emissions are fully taken into account in land use and energy policies; considers that local and national land use planning must facilitate walking and cycling in urban as well as rural areas; endorses the recommendation of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee that the Scottish Government removes any technology-specific references from candidate national developments 8 and 9; calls on the Scottish Government to amend the descriptions of these national developments to reflect this in the final version of the National Planning Framework for Scotland 2, and reaffirms that in accordance with paragraph 152 of the National Planning Framework for Scotland 2 proposed framework document it does not support the construction of new nuclear power stations in Scotland.

Finally, Parliament re-discovered consensus, in the form of an LCM regarding the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill.

One final thing: readers will note one absentee from the absentees, as it were: Elaine Smith, who appears to be back, though I suspect that this had more to do with the Members' Debate on International Women's Day than the substantive business. Still, it's good to see her back in the Chamber. Whether the Labour Whips thought that after she voted against the party line on three of the divisions is entirely another matter...


James said...

This is, as always, a very useful service even for those of us who watch the voting close up. You also ask an interesting question.

why vote for the amendments, only to oppose the amended motion?

Surely one reason might be that you feel the motion would be better, if it's going to pass anyway, with certain amendments included? They may not make it acceptable, but they may still improve it.

Will said...

James, the varying pieces of feedback about the Whip posts suggest that, far from this being viewed as a service where "I trawl the Official Report, so you don't have to" (as I'm tempted to market the thing), this is actually appreciated more by those who already play a part in the process - maybe it applies to the procedural wonkery that must surely arouse interest at Holyrood, or maybe it's the fact that a couple of days have passed and it presents a good opportunity to look at various trends, and compare the strengths and weaknesses of the parties in a way that isn't possible in Parliament before the "fog of war" has lifted.

I see your point with the amendments, but I'd still have thought that if an amendment simply made a motion slightly less bad (rather than better), and didn't carry it over the threshold into acceptability, then abstention might make more sense.

But then I'm never comfortable with the idea of voting you don't necessarily agree with just because it's less unpalatable than the alternative - hence my distaste for tactical voting.

That said, while I'm still not convinced by your take on the idea, it does have an 'alternative vote' feel to it so I can understand it a little better.

Ted Harvey said...

Will I want to add my appreciation for this work you share with us in the broader commonwealth.

Mind you, when I say 'appreciate'... I do at times find myself saying "oh God, I gotta remember to read up on what Will reports about the Parliament... I'll have that pint/ eat that bar of caramac/watch Being Human some other times... ho hum" :-)

Will said...

Ted, I was trying to come up with a witty rejoinder to top that, but I seem to be stuck at "Ewww... Caramac".

That's not witty at all, but it still needs to be said! :D