20th December 2004
short week this week - Chamber finishes on Thursday afternoon and then
two weeks off for Christmas and New Year. I'm determined to finish for
a good day - email receipts winding down, not a lot of mail, time to
finish these Christmas cards. I was shadowed all day by Kirsteen, a
politics student from Glasgow University who lives in Hamilton - she's
now an expert on sticking stamps on Christmas card envelopes! We did
have a good day though - Kirsteen was especially interested in the Press
Office and Research Office operation. She's in her final year at
Glasgow, and actually came through for a few days when she was just in
her first year, so she was able to see a lot of differences in how the
Parliament is working, even apart from now being in its permanent home
in Holyrood and having a lot more space to work in.
morning brought local work, in particular a meeting about South
Lanarkshire Council's proposed closure of one of the rural roads in the
area - running between Strathaven and Stonehouse. The Action Group feels
quite strongly that there has been a severe lack of public consultation
about this proposed closure and an underestimation by the Council of
just how much this road is used. There's a lot of public support for
keeping this road open and because of the objections the Council has had
to apply to the Scottish Ministers for the closure - a petition is
ongoing and we'll keep up the pressure.
Edinburgh at lunchtime and an afternoon of tidying up, last minute
letters and memos etc. I'm sure I drive Morag, Davie and Calum crazy
when recess or holidays come up, because I have this real psychological
thing about clearing the decks; as if the world will come to an end if I
leave a task undone for a week or so. It's funny what different
reactions you get - Morag is so patient and calm, Davie just tells me
straight to 'pack in the nonsense' and Calum just disappears as far as
possible. I know its me that's the problem, but I've always been like
this in every job I've ever had.
drinks at 5.00 pm with the other members of the Communities Committee -
cross-party of course and good to meet with colleagues socially.
Wednesday morning the Public Petition about historical institutional
child abuse was back up at the Public Petitions Committee. This was of
course following the debate in the Chamber when the First Minister
apologised on behalf of the State. I attended the Committee meeting to
check on progress and the representatives of INCAS (Institutional Child
Abuse Survivors) were back to update committee members. They have had a
meeting with the Executive, but cannot yet comment on the Minister's
promised enquiry because the remit is not yet agreed, so we have to wait
to see what happens there. I still feel though that without a full
Public Inquiry we won't be able to lay this one to rest. I was also
disappointed to hear in answer to my question about apologies from the
Institutions involved, that nothing satisfactory had been received by
INCAS on behalf of survivors. I had hoped that following Jack
McConnell's apology others would follow. I'm also still waiting to hear
from the Executive what their study of the Irish Government's Public
visitors on Wednesday as well - both from East Kilbride constituency. A
first year law student from Glasgow University and her mother who is a
member of one of the School Boards.
doing a project on Constitutional Law and wanted to see how the
Parliament works in action. One of the good things about the
accessibility of our Parliament, in terms of Information Technology as
well as the building itself, is that MSPs get constant queries and
requests for assistance from pupils and students of all ages - this can
only be good for the future of the country, with young people feeling
informed and involved if they want to be. Ailidh and Catherine attended
the Stage 3 Debate on protection for emergency works in the afternoon.
Stage 3 of a debate is the final stage when the last amendments are
debated upon. If the Bill is passed at the end of the debate, then it
goes for royal assent and becomes law. This one passed with only the
Conservatives voting against it.
clearing out and clearing up done on Wednesday evening, so I was feeling
better by Thursday morning.
debate on Thursday morning followed by First Minister's Question Time. A
festive note here with Nicola Sturgeon referencing the Three Wise Men
and Rosie Kane invoking Santa Claus. The afternoon was General Questions
as usual and then the last member's debate of the Autumn Session which
was about the closure of a community facility in Craigneuk, North
Lanarkshire. A fairly sad note to end upon with workers losing their
jobs. The Council is adamant that the replacement facility will be more
efficient and that the public will not lose out, but again, despite all
the talk of community involvement and participation in decision-making
it would seem that the clients feel that their views have not been taken
into account at all. We really don't have community planning quite right
yet at any level of Government, as so many people feel disenfranchised
from the processes.
last debate of the session. But there was another sour note on Thursday.
We learned that Macalpines, a construction company which had tendered
for the construction management of the Holyrood Project but had not got
the job, had served a writ on the Parliament in the sum of £4.5m for
lost profit. Seemingly the evidence they heard during the Fraser Inquiry
convinced them that they had a case. Although everyone is now aware that
all the decisions relating to the project were taken by the Scottish
Office through Westminster prior to The Scottish Parliament being
elected, Macalpines view is that the Parliament's Corporate Body, having
inherited the project, also inherited the liabilities and can therefore
be sued. It would seem to me though that the Parliament can only be
liable from the point of signing of contracts, and not for the process
which led up to it, but of course lawyers will be involved now and this
one could run for a long, long time.
lawyers, I was hopping mad at the beginning of the week, when I learned
that John Campbell QC, the advocate who had the leading role in the
Inquiry carried out by Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, had been mouthing off
with his personal views of the Holyrood Project at a Conference run by
the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.
Now, I was
the SNP Member on the Holyrood Progress Group and had to give evidence
at the Fraser Inquiry. It was daunting, but all that you can do in such
a situation is tell the truth as you see it and that's what I did. Lord
Fraser issued his Interim Report and the Final Report is awaited.
Meanwhile therefore I have been reticent about my personal views of the
experiences of my four years on the Progress Group and have not spoken
to the press about it, despite being asked on many occasions.
It seems to
me that to have worked as a professional Advocate for eight months on
the Fraser Inquiry, being privy to much information, and to have been
paid for this work (and paid well no doubt), Mr. Campbell is behaving
dishonourably in embarking on the after-dinner circuit and espousing his
personal views. This may even prejudice the final report. So, I don't
know about my colleagues on the Corporate Body or the Progress Group,
but I intend writing to Lord Fraser about this.
One bit of
Mr. Campbell's speechifying did make me smile however. He speaks of the
Progress Group Meetings and how "Professional Teams were kept waiting".
Well, coming from a member of the legal profession that strikes me as
pretty ironic. Kept waiting? How about witnesses turning up, having
taken the day off work, and being sent away again; how about policemen
sitting for days in court ante-rooms waiting to give evidence; how about
trials being postponed, and postponed again? Pot calling the kettle
sooty-ersed comes to mind here Mr. Campbell!
Gosh, I do
feel better now! A FINE NEW YEAR TO ALL.