21 March 2010

The Sunday Whip

Every now and then, Parliament throws up a bizarre event that makes it difficult to categorise what's going on. This was one of those weeks.

Wednesday wasn't great for the Government. There were eight absences: Shadow Further and Higher Education Minister Claire Baker (Mid Scotland & Fife), Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston, who has made only two Decision Times in the past month), Alex Johnstone (Con, North East Scotland), Labour Deputy Leader Johann Lamont (Glasgow Pollok, who ought not be confused with John Lamont), John Lamont (Con, Roxburgh & Berwickshire, who ought not be confused with Johann Lamont), John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West, who is now genuinely worrying me as he hasn't cast a vote in Parliament since two months ago today) Shadow Cabinet Member Without Portfolio John Park (Mid Scotland & Fife) and Nicol Stephen (LD, Aberdeen South).

They missed a Government debate on Tourism. The Labour amendment passed by 70 (Lab/Con/LD) votes to 50 (SNP/Green/Margo), and the Tory amendment passed by 70 to 47 with three abstentions, but the LibDem amendment fell by 64 (SNP/Con/Green/Margo) to 56 (Labour/LD). The amended motion passed by 71 (Lab/Con/LD/Margo) to 49 (SNP/Green):

That the Parliament supports the Scottish tourism industry as it works toward the shared growth ambition set out in the Tourism Framework for Change (TFFC) strategy; commends the commitment shown by the industry in establishing the new TFFC Leadership Group to drive an industry-led approach to improvements in quality, skills, innovation and investment across the sector; believes, however, that the Scottish Government must also take responsibility for meeting the skills gaps; notes that, in spite of the efforts made by tourism businesses and local communities as part of Homecoming Scotland 2009, overseas visitor numbers and economic activity in the hotels and catering sector fell in the first three quarters of 2009; regrets that, in spite of that fall in earnings in the sector, many Scottish tourism businesses are facing significant increases in non-domestic rates with immediate effect; notes the recent announcement that a focus on Scotland's food and drink will start in 2010; recognises tourism as a key sector with a vital contribution to make to the Scottish Government's strategic objectives and economic recovery plan; notes the importance of continuing to promote Scotland as a place to visit, stay, live and work; further notes that in its 2008 report, Growing Pains - can we achieve a 50% growth in tourist revenue by 2015?, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee recommended unanimously that the Scottish Government should set up a review group of leading industry specialists to make recommendations on the type and number of tourism education, skills and training courses in the future; notes that the committee's report suggested that the starting point for the review group should be a wholesale rationalisation into a model that suits Scottish needs and has industry buy-in; calls on the Scottish Government to implement the committee recommendation as soon as possible, and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that all press releases and announcements that it issues regarding tourism statistics paint a clear and wholly accurate picture of the industry.

Following that, the Renewables Obligation (Scotland) Amendment Order 2010 was waved through.

Thursday, meanwhile was missed by Margaret Curran, LibDem Health Spokesman Ross Finnie (West of Scotland), Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley), Johann Lamont, Margo MAcDonald (Ind, Lothians), John Farquhar Munro, Peter Peacock (Lab, Highlands and Islands), Public Health Minister Shona Robison (Dundee East), LibDem Leader Tavish Scott Shetland), Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston) and Andrew Welsh (SNP, Angus).

It was bloody complicated, thanks to the Labour motion on Climate Change. Now the SNP, Tory and LibDem amendments were all waved through, but the Green amendment caused a problem. It related to a live planning application for a new coal power station at Hunterston, so Ministers couldn't take a position on it. Accordingly, when the Green amendment came up (do take a look at this commentary from James), it passed by 66 to 26 with ten abstentions. Labour, the LibDems and Greens voted in favour, the Tories against, but the 30 SNP MSPs who voted split equally in three ways:

Alasdair Allan (Western Isles), Aileen Campbell (South of Scotland), Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock & Loudoun), Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North), Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland), Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow), Stuart McMillan (West of Scotland), Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians), Dave Thompson (Highlands & Islands) and Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) all voted in favour.

Brian Adam (Aberdeen North), Angela Constance (Livingston), Joe FitzPatrick (Dundee West), Christine Grahame (South of Scotland), Christopher Harvie (Mid Scotland & Fife), Bill Kidd (Glasgow), Michael Matheson (Falkirk West), Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland), Gil Paterson (West of Scotland) and Sandra White (Glasgow) voted against.

Nigel Don (North East Scotland), Bob Doris (Glasgow), Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland), Rob Gibson (Highlands & Islands), Tricia Marwick (Central Fife), Stewart Maxwell (West of Scotland), Ian McKee (Lothians), Christina McKelvie (Central Scotland), Maureen Watt (North East Scotland) and John Wilson (Central Scotland) all abstained.

And all the Ministers didn't even dare touch the abstain button, so sat on their hands. Am I the only one who thinks that this whole 10:10:10 thing is too neat, that it prevents there being a majority (or even plurality) SNP Group position on an issue where the Government (made up of members of that SNP Group) can't be seen to take a position? It seems clever, though a little contrived.

Anyway. The motion passed, by 66 (Lab/LD/Green + a third of the SNP) to 10 with 26 (Tories and a third of the SNP) abstentions:

That the Parliament notes the publication of the UK Climate Change Committee Report, Scotland's path to a low carbon economy; believes that the Scottish Government needs to review its Climate Change Delivery Plan to take into account the passing of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009; believes that there are economic opportunities to be gained from investment in low-carbon technologies and that the Scottish Government needs to take a lead through public procurement, particularly in the fields of transport and construction, and specifically calls on the Scottish Government to put in place a programme to replace its own fleet with low-carbon or electric vehicles, to bring forward the planning and development of a national vehicle battery-charging infrastructure and to enable the public and businesses to make the practical changes required to meet the targets set out in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009; urges the European Union and UK Government to take action to support Scotland's ambitious plans and targets; notes that, while preserving the environment must not be seen as being in conflict with economic growth, it is vital that current economic circumstances are recognised and that all public expenditure offers value for money to the taxpayer; also opposes new unabated coal power capacity, and therefore calls on the Scottish Government to reject plans to build a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston, given that large-scale carbon capture and storage at existing coal or gas plants has never been successfully demonstrated.

Then came the Labour motion on building better buses, and Ministers could take part in this: an SNP amendment was waved through and a LibDem amendment passed by 101 to 16 (the Tories voted against), while Shadow Culture Minister Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) missed the final vote, on the amended motion, which passed by 100 to 0 with 16 Tory abstentions:

That the Parliament notes that some transport authorities have secured better value for money when tendering for bus services by purchasing vehicles themselves rather than incurring costs that include a vehicle supplied by the bidders; further notes the flexibility and efficiency of the five Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) ALX 300 buses operating in the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport area, which are fully compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and which have variable numbers of seats in various configurations enabling one vehicle to be used for demand-responsive services, school services and local scheduled bus services in the course of a single day; considers that to the proven efficiency and social benefits of such buses should be added the environmental and jobs benefits of increasing production of ADL's new hybrid bus, which is compliant with both DDA requirements and with emissions targets, but notes with concern that over 900 workers at ADL, Scotland's sole bus manufacturer, are on a three-day week; calls on the Scottish Government, as a matter of urgency, to fund grants for acquisition of ADL buses by transport authorities and by commercial bus operators to ensure a new generation of bus-build that secures Scottish jobs and skills, world-class bus manufacturing in Falkirk and the provision of world-class transport for the Scottish public; notes changes to the Bus Services Operators Grant scheme promoted by the Scottish Government that will promote more environmentally friendly buses; notes that a number of UK cities, including Aberdeen and Glasgow, did not meet EU air pollution targets in 2009; further notes that poor air quality causes tens of thousands of premature deaths across the UK each year; believes that a bus scrappage scheme, making grants available to bus operators to replace old, polluting buses, would have a serious impact on reducing air pollution and carbon emissions, and further believes that the benefits to the environment and the economic boost to bus manufacturers will be considerably greater if the UK Government announces funding for a bus scrappage scheme in the Budget on 24 March 2010.

Finally, MSPs agreed to set up a Committee for the William Simpson's Home (Transfer of Property etc.) (Scotland) Bill.

So that's another week. Next week, we have a slew of motions, and Stage 3 of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill to contend with.

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