13 December 2009

The Sunday Whip

A quiet week, with a rather clear hint of wind-down now entering proceedings. It is, as the song says, beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Anyway. Wednesday was a good day for the Government: the Business Motion was waved through and the substantive business went the SNP's way. There were only three absentees, all from Labour: Marlyn Glen (North East Scotland), Shadow Schools Minister Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) and Tom McCabe (Hamilton South). They missed the vote on Further Powers for the Scottish Parliament, and the Labour amendment fell by 66 (SNP/LD/Green/Margo) votes to 59 (Labour/Tories). The motion itself passed by 63 (SNP/LibDems) to 61 (Labour/Tories/Greens) with one Margo-shaped abstention:

That the Parliament welcomes the recommendations of the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution that responsibility for the law across a range of areas be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and also welcomes the recommendations for closer working between the Scottish and UK Ministers to ensure that the needs of Scotland are properly represented, and urges the UK Government to work with the Scottish Parliament to ensure that, where there is consensus, all such recommendations are implemented before the dissolution of the current UK Parliament.

Of course, if I were feeling particularly venomous, I would point out that Labour could have killed this motion by making sure its members were in the Chamber: their three missing people could have turned a 63-61 loss into a 64-63 win. Politicians of all hues love to slate their rivals for opportunism but Labour aren't taking the opportunities afforded to them here, and poor organisation has given the SNP an easy win on the Constitution.

Anyway. After that, members agreed to tweak the Education Committee's remit, and Wednesday was over and done with.

Thursday, meanwhile, saw more consensus than is usual and there were eight absentees: Rhona Brankin (Midlothian), Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), Marlyn Glen, Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Stuart MacMillan (SNP, West of Scotland), Mike Pringle (LD, Edinburgh South), Nicol Stephen (LD, Aberdeen South) and Shadow Finance Minister David Whitton (Strathkelvin & Bearsden).

Firstly, there was an outbreak of agreement on a Labour motion concerning concessionary travel, with SNP and LibDem amendments, as well as the amended motion, all waved through:

That the Parliament welcomes the recommendation of the Review of the Scotland Wide Free Bus Travel Scheme for Older and Disabled People to include seriously injured armed forces veterans to the scheme but notes with disappointment and concern the review's recommendation to disenfranchise disabled people who receive the lower rate of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from the scheme; further notes that the review paints a worst-case scenario of the costs of including disabled people who receive the lower rate of DLA and that these costs are open to scrutiny and debate and that the review also played down the positive social impact that the scheme has on people's lives; acknowledges that denying disabled people on the lower rate of DLA access to the scheme will damage the main aims and ethos of the scheme, namely to allow disabled people improved access to services, facilities and social networks by free scheduled bus services and so promote social inclusion and improve health by promoting a more active lifestyle for disabled people; notes that previous local schemes operated in West Lothian and Strathclyde provided people on the lower rate of DLA access to concessionary travel schemes and that they supported the national scheme mirroring their eligibility criteria instead of the stringent criteria that are now adopted; welcomes disability organisations Leonard Cheshire Disability, Learning Disability Alliance Scotland (LDAS), Inclusion Scotland and many more in challenging the review's negative recommendation; considers that disabled people's views, that the national concessionary travel scheme should include people who receive the lower rate of DLA instead of backing the unfair recommendation on eligibility from the review, should be listened to; considers that if the Labour Party wishes this to be the case, it should bring forward a costed proposal to the Budget to show where the resources will be taken from to pay for this; recognises that rural areas suffer disproportionately from bus fare increases or reduced bus services, and calls on the Scottish Government to consider extending eligibility for the national concessionary travel scheme to include older and disabled people using community transport in rural areas.

Then came the SNP motion on Climate Change. The Green amendment fell by 117 to 3. The three were the two Greens, and Labour's Shadow Climate Change Minister Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) - the 117 were everyone else. But this is rather embarrassing, either for Labour or for Cathy Peattie: their Climate Change spokesperson voted the opposite way to the rest of the group on an amendment about Climate Change, which called for "a fundamental policy shift in areas such as road building, energy generation and use and aviation expansion." Now, either Peattie genuinely supports that, in which case she's isolated from the rest of her group (who don't support it) and so Labour's policy on one of the most important issues of our generation is now in a mess; or one the one vote of the year where she, of all people, really needs to know the gen, know the policy, know what she's voting for, know which way she's voting and most importantly of all, know which button to press managed to press the wrong button. In short, she was either dissenting or ditzy on Thursday and neither of those is particularly positive for her. In any case, the motion itself was waved through:

That the Parliament, having agreed unanimously on a 42% target reduction in Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050, agrees that MSPs and Scotland as a whole must focus on the practical implementation of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009; urges that all countries bring forward the most ambitious commitments appropriate to their circumstances early in the talks; looks to participants in Copenhagen to reach a legally binding agreement at the earliest opportunity that will prevent world temperatures rising by more than 2°C, and notes that a failure to do so would threaten vulnerable countries with, for example, inundation and desertification.

So that's it. Next week is the last week before the holidays (MSPs will be bringing board games in on Thursday), and there'll be a debate on the Pre-Budget Report (which will be ugly), a Finance Committee debate on the Draft Budget for next year (which will be even uglier) and Stage 1 of the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Bill, which will only be ugly if more festive-minded MSPs break out the mistletoe.

1 comment:

Ted Harvey said...

If ever I saw a policy where the wheels are going to fall off the bus because of gross overloading, it's the Scotland Wide Free Bus Travel Scheme.

It's pork-barrel, populist politics at its most basic. Lots of politicians coming up with lots of wheezes for even more beneficiaries to be added to the eligibility list.

Free travel for the otherwise socially excluded is a laudable and proper aim - but just how is this ever-expanding policy going to be paid for? Have we any actual hard evidemce as to the social return on the huge public expenditure involved here? How does this equate with the huge subsidies the scheme hands over to the so-called 'private sector' operators (who might not exist were it not for this taxpayers' subsidy?

And meantime, do any of these politicians actually travel, like me, on buses in the Greater Glasgow area at peak times? My committment to public transport is becoming ever more tested. Buses that are ovewrcrowded (with a large percentage clearly not commuting workers). This is to the extent that the boarding and exit area at the front of the buses are constantly and dangeroulsy blocked with folks who seem incapable of moving 'down the bus' a little. I cannot understand how the regulatory auhtorities just do nothing about this dangerous practice.

And of course, the bus floors are covered in manky wet discarded papers at the end of the morning rush hour - very dangerous for people with mobility problems whom we are now keen to add to the free travel eligibility list.