27 June 2010

The Sunday Whip

A quiet week, one that sums up that coming-towards-the-end-of-term-but-not-quite-there-yet-oh-look-is-there-footy-on-today?-ooh-yes-so-there-is-let's-do-a-bunk atmosphere that's pervading, well, most of Western society, I daresay.

Anyway. Wednesday saw only one vote, on Stage 1 of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, which passed by 96 (SNP/Lab/LD/Green) votes to 16 with no abstentions and a longish absentee list: Rhona Brankin (Lab, Midlothian), Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston), Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley), Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead (Moray), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw), Shadow Culture Minister Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin), John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West), Irene Oldfather (Lab, Cunninghame South), Mike Pringle (LD, Edinburgh South), LibDem Leader Tavish Scott (Shetland), Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston), Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP, Lothians), Finance Secretary John Swinney (North Tayside), Andrew Welsh (SNP, Angus) and Shadow Children's Minister Karen Whitefield (Airdrie & Shotts). The Financial Resolution was then waved through, along with the Budget (Scotland) Act 2010 Amendment Order 2010.

Thursday was pretty easy-going as well, and there were nine absentees: Wendy Alexander (Lab, Paisley North), Rhona Brankin, Linda Fabiani (SNP, Central Scotland), Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop (Lothians), Labour Deputy Group Leader Johann Lamont (Glasgow Pollok), Jack McConnell, John Farquhar Munro and the FM (Gordon).

They missed a LibDem motion on tourism, which faced SNP and Labour amendments. The Tories lodged an amendment to the SNP amendment, which passed by 76 (SNP/Con/LD/Margo) to 41 (Lab) with two Green abstentions. The amended amendment then passed by 61 (SNP/Con/Margo) to 58 (Lab/LD/Green) and this pre-empted the Labour amendment. The amended motion then passed, again by 61 to 58:

That the Parliament notes that tourism is among the largest contributors to the Scottish economy and is defined as a key sector; believes that the industry needs clear direction and support in order to achieve sustainable, long-term growth; welcomes the initiative of the industry to establish the Tourism Leadership Group as a positive step in working collaboratively toward growth and prosperity; notes that extending the small business bonus scheme will mean that half of all businesses, including many tourism-related businesses, will receive a discounted bill this year and well over a quarter of business properties will pay no rates at all and that the introduction of a transitional relief scheme would increase taxes for small and medium-sized private companies by £77 million, meaning that eight out of 10 ratepayers, including many in the tourism and hospitality industry, would be worse or no better off, which would be extremely damaging for Scotland in this period of fragile economic recovery, and welcomes the UK Government's decision not to repeal the special tax rules for furnished holiday lettings, as had been proposed by the previous administration led by Labour.

Then came a LibDem motion on free personal care for the elderly. This saw an outbreak of consensus, with SNP and Tory amendments waved through, along with the motion itself:

That the Parliament believes that free personal and nursing care for the elderly has widespread support and continues to deliver real benefits for tens of thousands of Scotland's most vulnerable older people, allowing them the dignity and independence of growing old in the comfort of their homes; recognises that budget constraints and demographic change present challenges for Scotland's social care and health services, but, in order to protect the elderly, reaffirms its commitment to free personal and nursing care for the long term so that Scotland's elderly population can continue to receive the care to which it is entitled; welcomes the wide-ranging Reshaping Care for Older People programme, which is developing innovative and practical ideas for change to meet the needs of Scotland's population that are sustainable, deliverable and fair; urges the Scottish Government to continue to identify savings in administrative costs that can be reinvested in frontline services, and, in this context, calls on the Scottish Government to give serious consideration to the proposal from Lord Sutherland to merge health and social care budgets.

This consensus was carried forward into the Government motion on the Independent Review of Sheriff and Jury Procedure, where Tory and LibDem amendments (along with the motion itself) were passed on the nod:

That the Parliament welcomes the report on the Independent Review of Sheriff and Jury Procedure conducted by Sheriff Principal Edward F Bowen CBE TD QC and believes that the people of Scotland deserve a modernised sheriff and jury procedure that promotes the interest of justice in an efficient way, serves the interest of victims, witnesses and jurors and is fit for purpose in the 21st century; further recognises that, with constraints on the public expenditure, it is vital to ensure that justice continues to be delivered swiftly and in a cost effective manner, and calls on the Scottish Government to work with the courts and other stakeholders to implement the reforms as a matter of urgency.

Finally, a Labour Committee reshuffle was passed without argument. That leaves one week before the summer break, and it's a bit of a rush job, with Stage 3 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill and the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill due. Talk about leaving your work until the last minute!

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