06 September 2009

The Sunday Whip

The return to Holyrood - well, the full return to business, following the other week's recall - was both a rather heavy and yet a rather simple affair, and the only motions up for debate (Thursday was taken up with the legislative programme) fell on Wednesday.

The Business Motions were, of course, nodded through, and the only challenge came on the motion for the Lockerbie debate - that in itself was no surprise, and neither was the outcome, with all parties having nailed their colours to the mast weeks in advance. It was, in a way, Parliament at its worst: everyone simply regurgitating the lines they'd rehearsed ad nauseam in the press.

Obviously, in Kenny MacAskill's case, a change in position isn't really an option, and there having been so dissent among SNP MSPs prior to Wednesday, their unanimous support for the Justice Secretary was a given.

For Labour, Malcolm Chisholm's dissent was also a given, having spoken out in favour of Kenny MacAskill's decision in the last debate. The absence of Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) was also a given, on account of her having contracted swine flu (and I, for one, wish her a speedy recovery). And their position is commendable, bearing in mind that it now seems to be contradicted more and more by the UK Government. We're always deriding Scottish Labour for simply being a subset of the UK Party, accusing Iain Gray of being Gordon Brown's lickspittle and not showing any independence. Well, there it is - even if it could have ended up provoking a furious row between the two Governments if Iain Gray was [sic] First Minister (I cannot bring myself to show any respect for someone who doesn't use a proper subjunctive), and even though the depressing sight of saltires being waved in Tripoli (which seems to be the main point of contention now) would doubtless have been replaced with the far more chilling sight of those same flags being burned.

For the Tories, the absence of Deputy Leader Murdo Fraser was inevitable, with his wife having given birth to their second child, but the absence of Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) was slightly off. He had already made a supportive intervention during Malcolm Chisholm's speech, so the veneer of Tory unanimity was already torn apart, and one more vote in the SNP's favour would have made no difference whatsoever. Instead, he was posted missing at Decision Time - all the more pathetic seeing as he was present for the Members' Debate on Diageo afterwards. Nevertheless, the Tory position has always been that a Scottish hospice ought to be fortified by police and surrounded by the press for a couple of months, and with the exception of Ted Brocklebank's impression of the Invisible Man, they stuck to that.

For the LibDems, the absence of Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) has not been explained, but John Farquhar Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) seems to have revised the position he expressed on Radio nan Gaidheal and voted with the Leadership to support the incredibly Liberal position of letting a dying man spend his final weeks in jail, as effectively blurted out by Jeremy Purvis on Newsnight Scotland and stuck to rigidly ever since (despite the fact that the position does not sit well with LibDem supporters outside the Scottish Parliament - including LibDem MPs and Peers).

The Greens, as one would have expected under the circumstances, voted with the SNP, and Margo MacDonald reverted to her usual abstentionist habit.

So the outcome was inevitable: the SNP motion on the matter faced a Labour amendment, which in turn faced amendments from the Tories and LibDems. Those amendments, the amendment they amended, and the amended motion, all passed by 73 votes (Labour minus Malcolm Chisholm, Tories, LibDems) to 50 (SNP, Greens, Chisholm) with one abstention (Margo):

That the Parliament notes the decisions by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to reject the application by the Libyan Government to transfer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi under the prisoner transfer agreement between the United Kingdom and Libya and to release Mr Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds; believes that the process of making this crucial decision was mishandled by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice; believes that it was wrong for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to meet Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi in prison while considering his application for compassionate release to Libya and that this potentially sets an inappropriate precedent; also believes that it was unacceptable that the media was made aware of the decision a week before it was formally announced; does not accept that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice received or sought sufficient medical advice to make his judgement on Megrahi's prognosis; further believes that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice did not sufficiently explore options to take account of Megrahi's illness other than compassionate release to Libya, in particular the opportunities for compassionate release within Scotland; believes that the announcement should have been made to the Parliament rather than to a press conference; considers that justice and compassion for the victims' families have not been served by this process; recognises the ability of both the Scottish police and the NHS in Scotland on the basis of past performance to have supported the release of Mr Al Megrahi to an appropriate location and regrets that this was not adequately explored; recognises that Scotland's international reputation has been damaged not simply by the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds to Libya but also because of the way that taking the decision was mishandled, and, given the mishandling of this process by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, does not agree with his decision to return Megrahi to Libya on compassionate release.

Following that, the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Bill was waved through Stage 1. Finally, there was another motion from the Bureau, which sailed through:

That the Parliament endorses the Scottish Government's proposal to nominate, as a representative of the Parliament, Jamie Hepburn MSP as a full member on the UK delegation to the regional chamber of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and Stewart Maxwell MSP and Irene Oldfather MSP as full members and Nicol Stephen MSP and Ted Brocklebank MSP as alternate members on the UK delegation to the Committee of the Regions for the remainder of the current session to 2012, and notes that the representation from local government to the Committee of the Regions will be Councillors Corrie McChord and Roger Knox as full members and Councillors Graham Garvie and Sandy Park as alternate members.

So with no votes on Thursday, we await next week's business, which is split between Government motions and Committee business. Oh joy.


Ted Harvey said...

A couple of points of follow-up on the Magrahi affair.

I continue to be veering between bemused and suspicious with the regard to the recent BBC poll published on the Magrahi affair and that recorded an apparently heavy Scottish public majority against the decision to release the dying man. I found this supposed heavy majority against the decision to be at complete and total odds with what I was consistently picking up in social and business chit chat in Scotland at the time.

For those who doubt this, I would suggest looking at the letters column in The Herald today and earlier, where the Opposition parties, especially Scottish Labour, are getting a pasting for their miserable party-politics-scoring contribution in this affair.

The poll was only of a 1,000 people so it would have been subject to unintended bias, but that it not the way the BBC (as well as other media) reported it – they reported it as “showing” the Scottish public was heavily against the decision.

The other cause for me tending towards more than bemusement, is the role of front man Brian Taylor. On the day of the poll being published he fronted on the BBC UK evening news and then followed with a presentation on BBC Scotland; each of these performances was differently nuanced with the UK version significantly less objective and somewhat harsher on the Scottish Government IMO.

I have to also say that I have begun to find Brian’s style and content just beginning to get a little over finessed and seeking the magisterial; and consequently, consistently, with an ‘official view’ feel to it, and sometimes seeming to betray a lack of the kind of connectability with the Scottish Government that he had with the old Scottish Labour Executive.

Certainly when he and the excellent Angus MacLeod of The Times were on BBC Scotland’s Saturday morning politics programme a couple of weekends ago at the height of the Magrahi affair in Scotland, I thought that Brian… well, I just think he got matters quite wrongly judged and that Angus had it bang on.

BellgroveBelle said...

It's interesting (to me anyway!) that the Councillor membership of the CoR is split among Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Independent. Despite working there as an intern some time ago, I'm not certain how this is arrived at!