13th December 2004
mid-December I begin to regret not having been more organised with
Christmas cards – I’ve bought my usual load of Parliament Cards, and
they’re all still in the box. I haven’t even thought of personal ones,
so this week will have a few late night card writing sessions. Still the
week starts well with a visit to Hamilton College to talk to the
third-year modern studies class about my trip to Tanzania. Unfortunately
technology at home has not been kind and my digital photographs all turn
out in shades of blue – dark blue people, light blue trees etc. Never
mind, I was able to take along some Masai clothes and jewellery and we
all had fun dressing up. The youngsters were really interested in their
counterparts on the other side of the world and I hope to go back to
Hamilton College to tell them more and show them some video film which
is, I believe, wending its way to me.
different start to Tuesday – Standards Committee. I’m just new on this
committee and have come in at the end of the discussion and
recommendations to Parliament from the Committee about the ‘Members
Interest Order’. Members’ interests have to be publicly declared and
published, for example I had to declare my trip to Tanzania because it
was paid for by the British Council. The Standards Committee has been
taking soundings from members and revising the Order which has been in
place since 1999. So, our Report is almost complete and will go to the
Parliament for debate before the new rules are finalised.
afternoon brought a visit from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy
representative for ‘Small Parties’. The WFD arranges study visits,
electoral observer visits etc. for parliamentarians in Westminster,
Welsh Assembly, NI Assembly, and of course our own Parliament. I’m the
SNP contact here in Holyrood. Examples of work this year have been when
Michael Matheson travelled to Sudan to gauge the democratic situation
there, and Tricia Marwick travelled to the Yemen on a similar exercise.
So, next month, two of my colleagues are heading off for short study
breaks – Roseanna Cunningham to Mozambique and Alasdair Morgan to the
Democratic Republic of Congo. As you can see, hardly holiday
Still on an
international theme, I had a visit in the evening from a young refugee
from the Western Sahara who has now moved from Oxford to Edinburgh. She
was granted leave to remain in the UK some time ago, and attended the
SNP Conference in Inverness back in September – we held a Fringe Meeting
to raise awareness of the plight of her people – the Saharawi.
Morocco invaded Western Sahara (previously Spanish Sahara) and General
Franco of Spain handed the territory to them and Mauritania before he
died. The people were cleared out and around 170,000 now live in refugee
camps in Algeria whilst around 70,000 live in the occupied territory.
Morocco has also pursued a policy of transmigration – moving Moroccan
people into the area so that the independence movement is diluted.
It’s not an
area of the world which is much reported upon, so anyone who is
interested in learning more can log onto
www.arso.org. I also remember that some time ago I attended an STUC
meeting where the Fire Brigades Union were speaking in support of the
Western Sahara, so I will get in touch with them again to see if they
are still active in the campaign. I did place a motion in the Scottish
Parliament some time ago asking the UK to use the opportunities afforded
to it as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United
Nations, and in particular its term as President, to ensure that the
referendum on self-determination for the Western Sahara, promised for
1992, takes place as soon as possible.
Committee on Wednesday morning – Communities – it always amazes me when
I read the newspapers that it looks like MSPs only work one and a half
days in the Parliament, in the Chamber. It’s a shame that they only
report the knock-about, confrontational debate stuff, when most of the
work is actually done in Committees, and very often by consensus. At
Communities Committee we were taking further evidence on the proposed
Charities legislation. The first session was with the legal profession,
hearing their views on the workability of the legislation and the second
session was with the voluntary sector – Scottish Council of Voluntary
Services etc. Differing views on various aspects of course, but a
general agreement that legislation to regulate charities is necessary
afternoon Chamber debate was about the ‘step change’ for the Health
Service, and the use of the private sector – it was widely trailed in
the press of course, so no surprises there. There was much disquiet
amongst members though that the relevant document “Fair to All, Personal
to Each”, was unavailable to members until after the Minister was
finished his speech. It seemed that the Executive was deliberately
withholding information so that the debate would not be properly
informed. The Presiding Officer did seem to have sympathy for members,
but could only ask the Executive to ‘take cognisance’ of members’
feelings. Oh well, as long as we don’t hold our breath whilst we’re
waiting for this Executive to care about members’ feelings!
evening and a really interesting presentation by Dr. Alison Elliot,
Moderator of the Church of Scotland about AIDS in Africa and the work
being carried out by the Church in HIV and AIDS awareness and support.
It was a very well attended meeting, arranged jointly by the
International Development and the Sexual Health Cross-Party Groups.
Unlike Westminster, here in Holyrood anyone can be a member of a
Cross-Party Group, so it doesn’t just have to be MSPs – I’m sure this
makes for much more interesting and informed discussion and decision
writing Christmas Cards.
morning brought two Tory sponsored debates – one on the Defence Review,
with particular reference to the Scottish Regiments, and the other on
Justice Issues, mainly Re-offending. There was a buzz about because the
Labour Group and the Lib-dem Group had both laid Amendments to the
motion on Defence, so no agreement there then amongst the coalition
partners! Decision Time at 5 pm would tell.
Thursday afternoon determined to finish the Christmas Cards once for
all, but managed to muck up my database and got totally confused – which
have been sent already? Cross-referencing required amidst much muttering
and stamping of feet.
And so to
Decision Time, and yes the Libs voted down the Executive’s amendment!
Payback to their Labour partners for being so nasty to their nice
Lib-Dem Minister last week about the Calmac Ferries issue? I guess we’ll
never know! Anyway, two votes in it and the Parliament voted for the
Scottish Regiments. If only Mr. Blair would listen. Mr. Hoon certainly
heard Annabel Ewing when she got thrown out of the House of Commons on
Thursday afternoon for calling him a ‘back-stabbing coward’, but there’s
a difference between hearing and listening.
Christmas Party Thursday night – and oh yes, we put the world to rights,
all over again. We were cheery though – a triple whammy that day;
Annabel giving Hoon a talking to, McConnell’s Executive getting beat on
the Regiments vote, and then a cracking win at the Inchyra By-election
in Grangemouth! Life was good on Thursday night.
I was late in at work Friday morning, and spent the last hour of the
morning prepping for a housing meeting I was holding in the afternoon.
Successful meeting though, with the further realisation that we really
do have a long way to go in this country before everyone is given the
chance of a decent roof over their heads.
night, writing up the notes and fixing that blooming database. So
Christmas Cards all weekend – not to mention Christmas presents,
Christmas Dinner prep. and putting up the tree. Still, I love it really.
more week of work to go, and then off until after New Year. Sounds good.