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The Sunday Whip

06/03/2011

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had a week quite like this one, packed to the gills with Stage 3 Legislation. The panic to get everything passed before dissolution is now on, which seems absurd, given that we have a fixed-term Parliament, and knew that the end was approaching! Also, given the sheer number of MSPs who wandered in and out during proceedings, a list of wholesale absentees is generally meaningless, particularly as on one vote, the Official Report gives a result of 104 votes in favour, but lists 107 names, and has John Farquhar Munro down as voting on both sides. Now it’s tempting to say, “Hmph! Typical LibDem!” but that’s supposed to be impossible on the electronic voting system so there’s clearly been a goof-up.

Anyway. Most of Wednesday was taken up with the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill, which saw 19 amendments go to a vote. The main feature of these was a sustained rebellion from Christine Grahame (SNP, South of Scotland) and John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West), with Grahame rebelling eight times, and Munro rebelling eleven times and abstaining once. The reaction to these amendments fell into four broad categories: of the Labour amendments, most (1A, 1B, 1C, 5, 15, 17, 18, 43, 51, 52 and 61) could get support from the Greens, along with our two rebels on occasion and, in general, Margo MacDonald when she was around. There were, however, a handful of Labour amendments (16, 20 and 60) that got wider support: only the Tories opposed them. This was also the case for the three LibDem amendments (14, 23 and 24) . The two Green amendments – 28 and 37, the last two amendments to be proposed by Robin Harper (there’s the end of an era) – both fell by 75 votes to 46 when Labour were the only other party to join the Greens.

After all that, however, the Bill itself passed unanimously!

Besides that, the Parliament passed an SNP motion on Fuel Duty. The Labour amendment fell by 78 to 44 (no one else backed it) and the motion carried by 75 to three – the Greens and Duncan McNeil (Lab, Greenock & Inverclyde) with 43 Labour abstentions:

That the Parliament notes that petrol and diesel prices in Scotland are among the highest in Europe and have reached record levels and that the planned rise in fuel duty by the UK Government in April 2011 could increase prices by a further 4p per litre; recognises that such increases impose an additional burden on households and businesses at a time of rising living costs and could undermine the economic recovery; notes the UK Government’s proposal to introduce a 5p-per-litre fuel discount scheme for island communities, and calls on the UK Government to cancel the rise in fuel duty planned for April and implement a fuel duty regulator that would ensure that some of the additional revenue that the UK Government will receive from increased revenues due to recent increases in oil prices is used to reduce fuel duty to help support Scottish households and businesses.

After that came the SSIs: the M8 (Baillieston to Newhouse) Special Road Scheme 2011, the A8 Trunk Road (Baillieston to Newhouse) Order 2011 and the A725 Trunk Road (Baillieston to Newhouse) Order 2011 all passed despite Green opposition. The others, however passed without even a flicker of hostility:

Healthcare Improvement Scotland (Requirements as to Independent Health Care Services) Regulations 2011;
Healthcare Improvement Scotland (Inspections) Regulations 2011;
Public Services Reform (Joint Inspections) (Scotland) Regulations 2011;
Public Services Reform (Social Services Inspections) (Scotland) Regulations 2011;
Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Consequential Provision) and Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 (Amendment of Specified Authorities) Order 2011;
Muntjac Keeping (Scotland) Order 2011;
Tenancy Deposit Schemes (Scotland) Regulations 2011

The following day saw MSPs agree to give themselves a five-year term after the election:

That the Parliament notes the potential clash of UK and Scottish general election dates in 2015; invites the UK Government to set the next Scottish general election after 5 May 2011 for Thursday 5 May 2016, and looks forward to UK Government consultation on a legislative provision that would set apart UK and Scottish general election dates on a permanent basis.

There was also time for the Audit Committee’s Greatest Hits – sorry, key themes, to be acknowledged, and the completion of a husband and wife team’s legislation: Bill Butler’s Damages (Scotland) Bill and its amendments passed unanimously, as did Patricia Ferguson’s Property Factors (Scotland) Bill. This prompted a rare “Awww!” moment at Holyrood.

Somehow, I think that’s the last sentimentality we’ll see until the debate at the end of the Parliamentary session saying goodbye to those members who are definitely retiring.

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