The Sunday Whip
Well, this was a strangely consensual week, even if, for the most part, the consensus only went as far as the opposition parties.
After a bad-tempered debate on the SVR, MSPs started work on Stage 3 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill, and three MSPs were missing for the whole thing: Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston), Jim Hume (LD, South of Scotland) and Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley). For the most part, peace broke out for this one, though four amendments (all of which were moved by Labour) did go to a vote. Amendment 155 fell by 62 (SNP/Con) votes to 60 (Lab/LD/Green) votes with one abstention (Margo), and Amendment 133 fell by 75 (SNP/Con/LD/Margo) to 39 (Lab/Green).
However, Amendments 144 and 145 passed, by 60 to 58 with three abstentions and 60 to 59 with three abstentions respectively. In both cases, the Tories supported Labour, while the SNP and the LibDems opposed it, with the Greens and Margo remaining on the fence. What this means is that three out of the four amendments to face a vote passed or fell thanks to Parliamentary absences – something for everyone to think about when preaching respect for Parliament.
Then came Decision Time, and the main event was the SNP motion on the Scottish Variable Rate. Aside from Curran. Hume and Jamieson, this session was also missed by Michael Matheson (SNP, Falkirk West). The Labour amendment passed by 77 (Lab/Con/LD/Green) to 46 (SNP) with Margo abstaining. The amended motion then passed by 76 to 46 with one abstention – LibDem Culture Spokesman Iain Smith (North East Fife) missed this one:
That the Parliament considers it an abuse of power for the Scottish Government to abandon the Scottish variable rate of tax without the approval of the Parliament and by consequence preventing the Parliament from using this power until 2013-14 at the earliest; further considers it unacceptable for ministers to mislead the Parliament over the existence of these powers; believes that it is wrong that a power given to the Parliament by the people of Scotland in a referendum should be taken away by the action of a minority government without reference to or endorsement from the Parliament, and calls on the Scottish Government to admit responsibility for the lapse of the tax varying powers and to apologise to the members of the Parliament and people of Scotland to whom it has conveyed the impression that these powers are still capable of use.
After that, peace broke out again, with Parliament waving through three SSIs: the Number of Inner House Judges (Variation) Order 2010, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Amendment Order 2010 and the Waste Information (Scotland) Regulations 2010.
On, then, to Thursday. The remaining amendments to the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill, were discussed, but no votes were needed on any of them. The Labour motion on a Budget for Scotland’s People, however, did see votes. There were a number of absences: Aileen Campbell (SNP, South of Scotland), Jackson Carlaw (Con, West of Scotland), Margaret Curran, George Foulkes (Lab, Lothians), Robin Harper (Green, Lothians), Cathy Jamieson, Shadow Finance Secretary Andy Kerr (East Kilbride), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Michael Matheson, Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw), LibDem Local Government Spokesperson Alison McInnes (North East Scotland), Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP, Lothians), David Stewart (Lab, Highlands & Islands) and Finance Secretary John Swinney (North Tayside).
The SNP amendment to the motion fell by 71 (everyone but the SNP) to 43, while the Tory and LibDem amendments passed by 71 to 43. Ian McKee (SNP, Lothians), missed the final vote on the amended motion, which passed by 71 to 42:
That the Parliament notes that the Scottish Government has been presented with its spending budgets for the four-year spending review period yet has chosen to provide local authorities, NHS boards, universities, colleges, the voluntary sector and the wider public sector with only one-year budget proposals for 2011-12; believes that such uncertainty is corrosive as it does not allow those organisations to plan effectively; believes that this inability to plan will have an adverse impact on services, individuals, families and communities, and calls on the Scottish Government to follow the example of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and publish longer-term figures up to 2014-15.
Following that, the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill passed unanimously.
So strangely, I’d say this was a good week for Parliament – in amongst all the rows, all the bad-tempered exchanges, everyone still managed to get it together over an important issue. In spite of everything else, that’s something to be proud of.