07 March 2010

The Sunday Whip

One of those weeks, I think would be the best way of describing this, with votes bordering on farce on occasion. On the plus side, that makes collating everything quite entertaining.

Anyway. Wednesday saw quite a few absentees: Shadow Health Secretary Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton), Rhona Brankin (Lab, Midlothian), Ted Brocklebank (Con, Mid Scotland & Fife), Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston), George Foulkes (Lab, Lothians), Shadow Transport Minister Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart), John Lamont (Con, Roxburgh & Berwickshire), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Tory Chief Whip David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands), Duncan McNeil (Lab, Greenock & Inverclyde), John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West), Irene Oldfather (Lab, Cunninghame South), Mike Pringle (LD, Edinburgh South), Public Health Minister Shona Robison (Dundee East), the FM Alex Salmond (Gordon), LibDem Leader Tavish Scott (Shetland), Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston) and Jamie Stone (LD, Ciathness, Sutherland & Easter Ross).

And there was quite a lot to get through. The Business Motions were waved through, the Ure Elder Fund Transfer and Dissolution Bill passed through without dissent, and the spirit of consensus was almost carried forward into the vote on the SNP motion on regeneration: the Labour and Tory amendments were accepted unanimously, but the LibDem amendment ran into trouble for, well, no discernible reason: it still passed, by 65 votes (everyone but the SNP) to 0, but the 45 SNP MSPs present abstained. I still haven't quite got my head around this whole forcing-a-vote-just-to-abstain thing, I don't really know what it achieves and I don't understand why people go to such trouble over something they clearly have no strong feelings about one way or the other. But hey ho, it happened, the amendment still passed and the motion itself went through unchallenged:

That the Parliament acknowledges the continuing need for regeneration of communities across Scotland, particularly in challenging economic times; also acknowledges the critical role of local government, community planning partners, the private and voluntary sectors and community members in delivering regeneration; notes in particular the importance of an effective planning system and the necessity of genuine community engagement to secure real change; recognises the contribution that regeneration makes to increasing sustainable economic growth and the improvement of opportunities for people living in deprived communities; acknowledges the success of the New Life for Urban Scotland initiative focused on Castlemilk, Ferguslie Park, Wester Hailes and Whitfield and described as a landmark in the history of urban regeneration in Scotland in the official assessment of the scheme; welcomes the £60 million Town Centre Regeneration Fund secured in the 2009 budget, and therefore calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward detailed proposals on how it intends to deliver its regeneration ambitions in the context of its economic recovery plan and how it will protect and enhance the contribution of the voluntary sector through structured and sustainable funding from central and local government.

Then came the SSIs. Now, usually, these don't attract a vote and it's clear that a small handful of MSPs weren't expecting any votes to take place on this week's selection - they clearly didn't pay any attention to the brief debate around them when it became clear that the Greens weren't happy with the proposals for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. And frankly, I'm surprised they might have needed to listen to any debate to understand that the Greens would oppose this. The Greens take the view that more roads mean more cars, more cars mean more emissions, more emissions mean more pollution and more pollution is a bad thing, so they were always going to try to stop the orders being passed, and the only way they could do that was force a vote and hope for the best. Sadly, Schools Minister Keith Brown (Ochil), Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop (Lothians), LibDem Environment Spokesman Liam McArthur (Orkney) and John Scott (Con, Ayr) appeared not to realise this and, it seems, did a runner. I have come to this conclusion as they were not present for the vote on the A90 (Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) Special Road Scheme 2010, which passed by 104 (everyone but the Greens) to 2.

It was at this point, however, that the Fugitive Four realised their mistake: I'd like to think they all left the Chamber, spotted that something was still going on, all yelled "Shit!" and ran back in at the same time as I think that's a charming image. They were, accordingly, back in the Chamber for the A90 (Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) Trunk Road Order 2010, which passed by 107 votes to 3: LibDem Culture Spokesman Iain Smith (North East Fife) found himself voting with the Greens this time.

Then came that most dreaded of Parliamentary occurrences: a quip from the Presiding Officer, noting that one member (Smith) had been "hauled back into line" when the A90 (Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) (Craibstone Junction) Special Road Scheme 2010 passed by 108 to 2.

It was followed up by another quip, claiming that "free will obviously still exists" when the A96 (Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) Trunk Road Order 2010 passed by 107 to 3, this time with Angela Constance (SNP, Livingston) voting with the Greens.

Then we got a snapshot of the PO's inner despair ("I give up!") when the A956 (Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) Special Road Scheme 2010 passed by 108 to 2, and Alex Fergusson decided to refrain from further attempts at running commentary for the A956 (Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) Trunk Road Order 2010, which also passed by 108 votes to 2.

Anyway. The farce was over, the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Order 2010 passed without dissent (and I'm sure the Greens noted the irony in an energy efficiency scheme being agreed in the same breath as a massive road-building operation), as did the remaining Bureau motions.

Thursday, meanwhile, saw a slightly less comfortable day for the Government. And there were fewer absentees than the previous day: Ted Brocklebank, Jackson Carlaw (Con, West of Scotland), George Foulkes, Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley), Jamie McGrigor (Con, Highlands & Islands), Duncan McNeil, Shadow Housing Minister Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow), John Farquhar Munro, Irene Oldfather, and Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson (Banff & Buchan).

Things started easily enough: a Labour motion on factoring services saw SNP and LibDem amendments waved through, though a Tory amendment fared less well, falling by 57 (Labour/LD/Green) to 13 with 46 (SNP/Margo) abstentions - Stuart McMillan (SNP, West of Scotland) and LibDem Finance Spokesman Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale) missed this one. However, the motion itself, passed without any further dissent:

That the Parliament notes that the Office of Fair Trading market study into the property management market found that the market is not working well for consumers in Scotland; welcomes the recent cross-party support for proposals to require property factors to register and to make provision for an accessible form of dispute resolution between homeowners and property factors; further welcomes this positive progress toward the introduction of legislation to ensure better accountability of property managers for their standards and the services that they provide; seeks to ensure that the appropriate authorities are given the powers necessary for effective enforcement of any new legislation, and calls on the Scottish Government to give consideration to the introduction of a mandatory accreditation scheme to cover private, public and voluntary sector property managers.

The Government motion on educating children and young people to compete in a globalised 21st century didn't do too well, though. The Labour amendment passed by 70 (Lab/Con/LD/Margo) votes to 48 (SNP/Green), the Tory amendment passed by 70 to one (Stuart McMillan) with his colleagues and the Greens abstaining, a LibDem amendment at least had some consensus about it, and the motion itself passed by 71 - Labour, the Tories, LibDems, Margo plus Christopher Harvie (SNP, Mid Scotland & Fife) - to 45 (the rest of the SNP group) with two Green absentions:

That the Parliament recognises that in the globalised and increasingly interconnected 21st century it is essential that young people are equipped with the skills and capacities needed to succeed in the global marketplace; regrets the absence of a coherent skills strategy and the lack of preparedness for implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, particularly the lack of detail regarding the new qualifications and provision for vital continuing professional development; notes the Scottish Government's determination to learn from other countries' education systems to ensure that Scotland further improve its performance and applies a global perspective to its approach and ambitions; believes that the priorities for parents and teachers across Scotland are substantial improvements in basic standards of literacy and numeracy, greater rigour and greater flexibility in the SQA qualifications structure and wider opportunities for young people to pursue formal vocational training so that Scotland can strengthen its international reputation in educational attainment; notes the particular importance of modern languages and science in modern society and the global marketplace, and believes that the Donaldson review of teacher training must ensure that teachers are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to develop these and other key subjects and meet the needs of pupils in the 21st century.

So that was that. Next week there are Government debates on aquaculture, and serious and organised crime, along with Tory business on Thursday morning.

No comments: