The Sunday Whip
After some hectic weeks, this was surprisingly calm, though it’s fascinating that with less than six months to the Election, the SNP and Labour are co-operating more than I’ve seen them do in years, with a view to sticking it to the Coalition, rather than the opposition uniting to lob eggs at the SNP.
So on Wednesday, we had the usual waving through of the Business Motions, and Stage 1 of the Patient Rights (Scotland) Bill. There were ten absentees: Wendy Alexander (Lab, Paisley North), Rhona Brankin (Lab, Midlothian), Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston), Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), Jamie Hepburn (SNP, Central Scotland), Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley), Marilyn Livingstone (Lab, Kirkcaldy), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw) and Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP, Lothians). Stage 1 of the Bill passed by 84 (SNP/Labour) to 32 (Con/LD) with two Green abstentions. The financial resolution passed by 99 (SNP/Lab/Con) to 16 (LD) with the Greens abstaining again. David McLetchie (Con, Edinburgh Pentlands) missed that vote.
Following that, two SSIs were waved through: the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 (Supplemental and Consequential Provisions) Order 2010 and the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (Membership of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission) Amendment Order 2010.
Thursday saw us back to the old routines, with eight absentees: Aileen Campbell (SNP, South of Scotland), Tory Deputy Leader Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland & Fife), Cathy Jamieson, Marilyn Livingstone, Margo MacDonald, Tom McCabe (Lab, Hamilton South), Shadow Education Secretary Des McNulty (Clydebank & Milngavie) and Shadow Housing Minister Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow).
First, we got a rather odd occurrence: an opposition motion – specifically a Tory motion on care home costs – generating consensus, as a Government amendment and the motion itself were passed without dissent:
That the Parliament recognises the changing demographics of Scotland and the increasing financial pressures on services providing care for older people; recognises the need to shift the balance of care; notes that independent and local authority-run care homes in Scotland are regulated by the Care Commission in accordance with standards set by ministers, and further recognises the opportunity through the Reshaping Care programme public engagement process to examine existing models of provision and funding across all care sectors and care settings to ensure that value for money is coupled with continuing high standards of care.
A Tory motion on prescription charges, however, fared less well, facing a Government amendment which in turn faced a Labour amendment. This passed by 72 (Lab/Con/LD) to 45 – Tricia Marwick (SNP, Central Fife) missed this one – with two Green abstentions. Nevertheless, the amended amendment still passed by 89 (SNP/Labour/Green) to 31 (Con/LD), pre-empting a LibDem amendment in the process, and the amended motion also passed by 89 to 31:
That the Parliament recognises that the abolition of prescription charges will benefit all those patients with long-term conditions and the 600,000 people on low incomes who are not entitled to exemption and further recognises that total abolition is in the best tradition of the NHS and that poor people and sick people should not be made to pay the cost of the economic and financial situation that Scotland faces but regrets that free prescriptions for cancer patients in Scotland were not implemented by April 2009 in line with England.
Finally, there was an SNP motion on the AV referendum and the clash with the 2011 elections. Needless to say, the Coalition parties had to band together against an SNP and Labour onslaught (and needless to say, that was nowhere near enough), but significantly, we saw the first significant breaking of ranks on the part of a LibDem MSP since the General Election, with Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) going rogue. Tory and LibDem amendments fell by 89 votes to 30 with Tolson abstaining, while the motion itself passed by 90 (SNP/Labour/Green/Tolson) to 30:
That the Parliament notes with real concern the UK Government’s intention to hold a referendum on voting reform for UK Parliament elections on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament and other devolved institutions in May 2011; regrets the UK Government’s failure to consult the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament on this matter, and calls on the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to agree a new date that will avoid a clash with elections to this parliament.
So that ends another week. Next week, we have Stage 3 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill (that’ll make for a lengthy session: MSPs agreed to move Decision Time back to 6 p.m. for Wednesday), then on Thursday we have Labour business (which Government will they stick it to this time?) followed by Stage 1 of the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, which, if the Bill Committee’s report is anything to go by, is likely to be killed off. So to speak.