06 June 2010

The Sunday Whip

This was a quiet, successful week for the Government, with the usual Consensus Wednesday and Minor, Inconsequential Ding-Dong Thursday.

All Wednesday saw was a debate on and acknowledgement of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee's Report on the way forward for Scotland's banking, building society and financial services sector and the traditional waving through of the Business Motions.

Thursday was a little busier, and there was only one absentee: Dave Thompson (SNP, Highlands & Islands). Indeed, you have to go back to the 100% attendance for the vote on Stage 1 of the Budget in January to find when the Chamber was this full at Decision Time. Things began with a Labour motion on the NHS. This faced an SNP amendment which itself faced two amendments. Of these, the Tory one passed by 77 (SNP/Tory/LD) votes to 48 (Lab/Green) with one abstention (Margo, of course), and a protestation that Housing Minister Alex Neil's console wasn't working. This isn't the first time this has happened: I seem to recall something similar happening to Robert Brown a couple of months ago and it may be time to run a proper diagnostic on the Parliament's equipment. For what it's worth, six years isn't a bad innings for electronic equipment - assuming that a) it hasn't been replaced already and b) new machines came with the building rather than just shipping the old consoles from Assembly Hall. If that's actually what happened, then the Parliament's gadgetry is 11 years old and I'd hope that the Corporate Body is finding time to discuss replacement and upgrades. In fact, I'd start doing that anyway if I were on it: what if the equipment fails during a key piece of legislation? What if a defective console makes the difference between something passing or falling? This is always a risk with electronic voting but the risk is increasing with the consoles' age, failures are taking place anyway (but luckily haven't caused a major problem yet) and the SPCB needs to step in as soon as possible.

But I digress. The LibDem amendment was waved through and the amended SNP amendment passed by 80 - the SNP, Tories, LibDems, Margo and Wendy Alexander (Lab, Paisley North) to 47 - the rest of the Labour group and the two Greens. The amended motion then passed by 79 to 48, with Wendy Alexander remembering which party she was in:

That the Parliament notes the real-terms increase for the NHS budget in 2010-11 despite the previous UK administration cutting the Scottish Government budget by £500 million; notes the commitment by the new UK coalition government to real-terms increases in the NHS budget in future years and agrees that all resultant Barnett consequentials should be applied to the NHS in Scotland; understands that, notwithstanding the above, NHS budgets are tight as a result of Labour's economic mismanagement and that all NHS boards require to deliver services more efficiently, but welcomes the commitment that quality of patient care will be the paramount consideration, that there will be no compulsory redundancies in the NHS and that there will be more staff in the NHS at the end of this parliamentary term than there were when Labour left office in 2007; also welcomes the commitment from the UK coalition government to reverse Labour's increase in national insurance, which would have cut £40 million from the budget of the NHS in Scotland, and calls on the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing to publish immediately NHS boards' workforce projections and to carry out robust scrutiny, including risk assessment, of the impact on the safety and quality of patient care and the provision of frontline NHS services.

Then came a Government motion on student fees. A Labour amendment fell by 64 - the SNP, most of the LibDems, the Greens and Margo - to 63 - Labour, the Tories and Jim Hume (LD, South of Scotland), while a LibDem amendment passed by 65 (SNP/LibDems/Greens/Margo) to 17 - the Tories plus Shadow Sport Minister Frank McAveety (Glasgow Shettleston) with the rest of Labour abstaining, and the amended motion passed by 65 to 16 with all 46 Labour MSPs abstaining:

That the Parliament notes the ongoing review of higher education and student finance in England and Wales; recognises that the Scottish Government will need to consider any outcomes of this review and the potential impact on Scottish universities; commends the National Union of Students' student fee pledge, and welcomes that, thanks to the actions of the previous and current administrations in Scotland, full-time Scottish higher education students studying in Scotland do not pay tuition fees or top-up fees.

Following that, MSPs waved through the Advice and Assistance and Civil Legal Aid (Transfer of Tribunal Functions) (No. 2) (Scotland) Regulations 2010 and the Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2010, as well as a reshuffle of the SNP's Committee Substitutes.

So that's it for another week. Next week sees Stage 1 of the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Bill, so should be a good one.

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