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The Sunday Whip

14/11/2010

Another busy week, as one of the more controversial pieces of legislation in this Parliament made its way through the final stages of procedure.

That piece of legislation was, of course, the Alcohol Etc. (Scotland) Bill, which underwent Stage 3 on Wednesday, and it’s a mark of how important this was viewed by MSPs that the normal to-ing and fro-ing which accompanies Stage 3 amendments was curtailed, and indeed, only Margo MacDonald appeared to miss everything.

And we got straight to the nitty-gritty with the Government moving to restore the minimum pricing section of the Bill in Amendment 1, though this faced an amendment from the Subordinate Legislation Committee, which fell by 91 (SNP/Labour) votes to 32 (Con/LD) with two Green abstentions. Rather predictably, Amendment 1 then fell by 76 (Lab/Con/LD) to 49 – the SNP, Greens and Malcolm Chisholm (Lab, Edinburgh North & Leith). Perversely, Amendment 2, which introduced a sunset clause to Amendment 1 then passed by 63 (SNP/LD/Greens) to 61 (Lab/Con), so a sunset is now planned in the land of eternal darkness.

At this point, we got something rare: a backbencher breaking ranks to lodge individual amendments without the sanction or support of their party. In this case, it was Ian McKee (SNP, Lothians), whose amendment 23 fell by 63 (SNP/Con/Green) to 17 (LDs and McKee) with 45 Labour abstentions. This was followed by two Tory amendments, 24 and 25, both of which fell by 109 to 16 with everyone else opposing them. Then came two further amendments from Ian McKee, 26 and 27. These both fell by 79 (SNP/Con/LD/Green) to one (McKee alone) with 45 Labour abstentions.

Then came the first Labour amendment – 28. This fell by 78 (SNP/Con/LD) to 47 (Labour/Green). The next one, 46, fared better, passing by 79 (Lab/Con/LD/Green) to 0 with 46 SNP abstentions. The Tories then followed with Amendment 29, which fell by 109 to 16, though Amendment 33 passed by 75 (SNP/Con/LD) to 47 (Labour/Green).

After this, the LibDems had a pop, with Amendments 34 and 35, both of which fell by 108 to 16, with no other party supporting them. Then came three SNP amendments. The first of which, passed by 91 (SNP/Labour/Green) to 33 – Tories, LibDems and George Foulkes (Lab, Lothians). Amendments 21 and 22 passed by 108 to 16 and 107 to 16 respectively, with only the Tories opposed.

Finally there came four Tory amendments. 42 fell by 62 (Labour/LD/Green) to 61 (SNP/Con). 43 fell by 92 – SNP, Labour, Greens and Jamie Stone (LD, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) – to 31 (Con/LD), while in what I can only imagine is some sort of Wrong Button Exchange Program, 44 fell by 90 (SNP/Lab/Green) to 33 – Tories, LibDems and Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham (Perth). Everyone remembered which party they were in for Amendment 45, which fell by 90 to 32.

And that was it: the Business Motions were waved through, and while there were complaints about the state of the Bill everyone was happy to see it passed, and Decision Time was rounded off with the waving through of an SSI: the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 2010.

Thursday was a quieter affair with an element of egg-throwing and there were a number of absentees: Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Baker (North East Scotland), Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston), Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber), Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), MArlyn Glen (North East Scotland), Rhoda Grant (Lab, Highlands & Islands), Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley), Margo MacDonald, Frank McAveety (Lab, Glasgow Shettleston), Cathy Peattie (Lab, Falkirk East), FM Alex Salmond (Gordon), Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP, Lothians), Deputy FM Nicola Sturgeon (Glasgow Govan) and Finance Secretary John Swinney (North Tayside).

They missed a chance to lob an egg at the SNP, thanks to a Government motion on the Curriculum for Excellence. A Labour amendment passed by 70 (Lab/Con/LD) to 42 (SNP) with two Green abstentions, while a LibDem amendment was waved through. The amended motion passed by 70 to 42 with two abstentions:

That the Parliament congratulates the teaching profession and all who work in or are part of school communities on their efforts to take forward the Curriculum for Excellence; notes the ongoing concerns among teachers about the lack of clarity over assessment arrangements and, in particular, the concern among secondary teachers over the timetable for the new qualifications that have not yet been resolved; believes that further work is required on benchmarking and moderation; is gravely concerned at the impact of current and anticipated cuts in schools budgets on the resources available for implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence; recognises the need to work with, and fully support, the teaching profession and to involve parents to a greater extent, recognises the need for a long-term commitment to the Curriculum for Excellence, and confirms that commitment from this parliament, and further recognises the need for ongoing support for, and dialogue with, teachers as they continue to develop the curriculum, and calls on the Scottish Government, local authorities and education stakeholders to work constructively together to make available the best possible support for the teaching profession as the curriculum and new qualifications are implemented.

MSPs then acknowledged the Health & Sport Committee’s Report on out-of-hours healthcare provision in rural areas, and completed the day by waving through two further SSIs: the Protected Trust Deeds (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2010 and the Bankruptcy (Certificate for Sequestration) (Scotland) Regulations 2010.

So that’s another week. Next week, Stage 1 of the Patient Rights (Scotland) Bill comes up, along with Tory business and a Government debate on the timing of the AV referendum doubtless designed to put LibDem MSPs under considerable pressure. Say, did someone say “press releases”?

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