17 May 2009

The Sunday Whip

A broadly consensual approach to this week, which is probably just as well, as the political world's eyes appear to be on the feeding frenzy that is the Westminster expenses scandal (which I'll be considering tomorrow, at some point after Michael Martin has put himself in front of an increasingly hostile House of Commons to issue some form of statement). In fact, no votes at Decision Time needed to be taken at all this week, with everything getting through on the nod. The only votes were on Stage 3 of the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill on Wednesday afternoon, and the key points of the day's proceedings appear to have been missed by a number of MSPs: Jackson Carlaw and his Party's Leader Annabel Goldie (both West of Scotland), Trish Godman (Lab, West Renfrewshire), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), David McLetchie (Con, Edinburgh Pentlands), Labour's Shadow Transport Minister Des McNulty (Clydebank & Milngavie), Anne McLaughlin (SNP, Glasgow), John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West), LibDem Leader Tavish Scott (Shetland) Labour's Shadow Public Health Minister Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland & Fife), Jamie Stone (LD, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Glasgow Govan)

Anyway, after a Business Motion relating to the afternoon's proceedings was waved through, the amendments (PDF) to the Bill were discussed, and only five went to a vote.

The first to do so was Labour's Amendment 4, and there were two further absentees for this one: Schools Minister Keith Brown (Ochil) and Culture Minister Mike Russell (South of Scotland). Now this is the key: the amendment passed by 58 votes to 56, with Labour, the LibDems and the Greens voting in favour, and, crucially, the SNP and Conservatives voting against. So had the two Ministers arrived a little earlier, the vote would have been tied and the amendment - which the Government opposed - would have fallen. As it stands, it was voted into the Bill.

Labour's Amendment 13 came a little later on, and again, there were additional absentees: as well as Keith Brown and Michael Russell, Christina McKelvie (SNP, Central Scotland), Mike Rumbles (LD, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine) and Nicol Stephen (LD, Aberdeen South) had also gone walkabout. In fact, Mike Rumbles didn't come back. The amendment passed by 56 votes to 55, with the same party split: Labour, LibDems and Greens in favour; SNP and Tories opposed. Therefore, this amendment was passed but needn't have been.

At this point, it's worth pointing out that had there been a full attendance for the Stage 3 debate, the votes would have stacked 64 to 63 in favour of the amendments tabled, with Margo MacDonald an unknown quantity: had she opposed them, they would have fallen; had she supported them or abstained, they would have passed. So on that basis, it's possible that these amendments were destined for the Bill anyway, but given who missed the whole afternoon and who either showed up late, who slipped the odd vote or who wandered off early, then these could be chalked up as unforced errors by the Whips. Though as we'll soon see, things turned and the Government found results going its way for the rest of proceedings.

Anyway, Labour's Amendment 14 fell, with the vote tied at 56 each and the Presiding Officer deploying the status quo convention: voting the amendment down, before going on to perform at a rock concert using only three chords. Again, the parties were split the same way, and Messrs. Brown and Russell were still abstent, as were Messrs. Rumbles and Stephen but Christina McKelvie had returned, and so forced the tie.

At this point, Alex Fergusson left the Chair - who knows, maybe he actually went to perform at a rock concert? - and the SNP's Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) found himself deputising for the rest of the afternoon's votes. Now, under the circumstances, you would expect that the afternoon would have got slightly worse for the Government. Instead, it got better.

The Greens pressed Amendment 15, but it fell by 57 votes to 55, with the same parties supporting and opposing the amendment. Alasdair Morgan's ascent to the Chair was offset by the arrival of Keith Brown and Mike Russell, while Nicol Stephen's return was undermined by the continued absence of Mike Rumbles and the brief disappearance of Mike Pringle (LD, Edinburgh South) and his Party's Education Spokesperson Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West).

This was followed by the last vote of the afternoon: Labour's Amendment 16: Mike Pringle and Margaret Smith had come back but Mike Rumbles was still AWOL, and the parties were once against split the exact same way. The upshot was a voted tied at 57 votes apiece, and it was Alasdair Morgan's turn to deploy the status quo convention and voted the amendment down.

That being done, the rest of the debate continued without incident and the Business Motions were nodded through, easing us gently into Decision Time, when the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill was unanimously agreed by the Parliament, along with the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 4) Order 2009.

Thursday, meanwhile, was completely consensual. It's a mark of how ratty Thursdays have become in the Parliament, that the last time a Thursday saw complete unanimity in the Chamber was almost six months ago, on 20 November. Anyway, MSPs were all in favour of the general principles of the Scottish Local Government (Elections) Bill, and the accompanying Financial Resolution. Following that, a Government motion on Scotland's engagement in the USA and Canada, along with a Labour amendment, were also nodded through:

That the Parliament recognises the importance of Scotland's relationship with the United States of America and Canada; notes the contribution of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and all those who were involved in the development of Scotland Week over the last eight years in North America; expresses its gratitude for the significant contribution of the Scottish diaspora in helping to promote Scotland's rich cultural heritage, and encourages the Scottish Government to promote Scotland's cultural diversity in a modern Scotland and to continue to develop a more joined-up approach to the promotion of Scotland in Canada and the United States of America by working in partnership with all relevant organisations in the public and private sector in order to ensure that Scotland derives real social and economic benefits from such activities.

So that was that. Not that anyone cared, in the middle of the Westminster feeding frenzy, a Eurovision song contest that now lasts a week, the opening week of the new Star Trek movie which isn't as horrifying as I initially feared (and neatly sidesteps some of the more pedantic Trek fans' potentially awkward questions) and an SPL title race featuring two Old Firm sides who have displayed a remarkable capacity for wanto self-destruction. Of course, Eurovision is now over and the Star Trek hype will have subsided, but I suspect that political discourse will surround whether or not Michael Martin will still be able to get a chauffeur-driven ride to Celtic's must-win-for-them-though-I'd-rather-they-didn't-but-it'll-hopefully-be-irrelevant-anyway-as-long-as-we-beat-Dundee-United-at-the-same-time match against Hearts on Sunday.

1 comment:

subrosa said...

Firstly you won't beat Dundee United. :)

Secondly it seems the SNP whips weren't doing too well last week.