The Sunday Whip
A shambolic week, with grumbles regarding the electronic voting system from the MSPs, a broken pairing and a complete failure of consensus which bodes ill for the Budget.
Wednesday saw the completion of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, as well as the traditional waving through of the Business Motions. Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston), Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) and John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West) missed the full day’s proceedings, but other than that, it was the typical Stage 3 revolving door.
First came the amendments. The first to come to a vote was Amendment 45 from Labour, which fell on the PO’s casting vote, with MSPs tied at 61-61: Labour, the LibDems and Greens voted in favour; the SNP and Tories voted against. Subsequent amendments, 46 and 47 fell by 63 to 61 (the same parties voting the same way, though Margo did vote in favour of 46, only to disappear for 47). Then came two Tory amendments: Amendment 4 fell by 106 to 16, while Amendment 6 fared no better, falling by 107 to 16 when the party failed to get any other supporters.
These were followed by a wave of Government amendments – 38 to 43, most of which passed by 80 votes to 0, with 43 Labour abstentions. However, Amendment 40 passed with only 42 Labour abstentions, and Amendment 43 passed by 81 votes to 0 with 41 abstentions, when Wendy Alexander (Lab, Paisley North) ended up voting in favour.
There then came three amendments tabled by Margo MacDonald. Amendment 11 fell by 118 to 2 (the second being Green Co-Convener Patrick Harvie: Robin Harper missed this one) with one abstention: Trish Godman (Lab, West Renfrewshire). Notably, Alasdair Morgan was in the Chair and I believe this is the first time – since the election at least – where the pairing arrangement that seems to exist regarding the two Deputy Presiding Officers has failed. Luckily, it hardly mattered. Amendment 12 fell by 118 to 2 (Godman remembered the arrangement this time, but strangely, Margo was not in a position to vote on her own amendment, which needed all the help it could get). A semblance of normality was restored for Amendment 13, which fell by 118 to 3.
Finally, there were two more Labour amendments: Amendment 2 fell by 79 to 42 and Amendment 16 fell by 80 to 42 – Labour could not get any supporters for these.
The Bill itself passed quite comfortably, by 104 to 16 with only the Tories opposed. Those missing were Aileen Campbell (SNP, South of Scotland), Margaret Curran, Helen Eadie (Lab, Dunfermline East), Karen Gillon, John Farquhar Munro, Mike Pringle (LD, Edinburgh South), Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP, Lothians) and Finance Secretary John Swinney (North Tayside).
On to Thursday, and a Labour motion entitled Managing Scotland’s Finances. There were a number of absentees: Gavin Brown (Con, Lothians), Margaret Curran, Helen Eadie, Karen Gillon, Shadow Enterprise Minister Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw), John Farquhar Munro, Alex Salmond, Shadow Public Health Minister Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland & Fife) and Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson (Banff & Buchan).
First came the SNP amendment, which fell by 72 to 45, with all the opposition parties voting it down. The Tory amendment also fell, by 87 (SNP/Labour/Greens) to 30 (Con/LD) and the LibDem amendment fell by 85 (SNP/Labour) to 32 (Con/LD/Green). The motion itself then fell, by 79 to 38: not only were all the other parties against it, but Wendy Alexander and Shadow Cabinet Secretary Without Portfolio John Park (Mid Scotland & Fife) voted against. Therefore, Parliament took no position on managing Scotland’s finances.
This is why that bodes ill for the Budget: in past years, the SNP have managed to get the Tories and Margo on side: the Tories were willing to do a deal as it got their policies implemented and kept Labour in Opposition at Holyrood (remember Annabel Goldie’s line: “Scotland is already badly served by one Labour Government – we don’t need two!”); and Margo was kept happy with some pork for Edinburgh. Labour’s position was generally to try and kill the Budget with a view to watching it die and more often than not, the LibDems would follow suit (though could be persuaded to abstain), while the Greens formed a small squadrone volante. The Coalition at Westminster, however, has shifted the landscape: the SNP are opposed to the budget cut they’re getting, but as the Scottish Government, still have to allocate the resources; Labour are opposed to both Governments – the allocation and how it’s spent – while the Tories and LibDems find themselves having to defend the allocation and so against both the SNP and Labour. What used to be two rival camps has turned into three and as the only thing that any two of the groupings agree on is that they’re opposed to what the third is arguing, this is going to make for one ugly bastard of a budget process.
But I digress. After that fiasco, the parties re-discovered consensus to pass the general principles of the Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill and nodded through an SNP Committee re-shuffle.
That’s it for another week. Next week sees Stage 3 of the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Bill, a debate on the Curriculum for Excellence, and a Health and Sport Committee debate on out-of-hours healthcare provision in rural areas.