Happy New Year! I hope you
all had a wonderful time and youíre feeling refreshed. I had a
marvellous time, including climbing Birnam Hill where the photograph was
It was a gentle return to
Parliament this week, but the news is still dominated by the economic
disaster, every day seems to be bringing more bad news, another business
failing, more people losing their jobs, and there doesnít seem to be any
end to it. There will, it would seem, be much more pain to come before
we start to see some recovery. I know that John Swinney is doing what
he can to ease some of the pressure on Scotland, but without the full
economic powers itís very difficult. Weíll see in the Budget Bill in
the morning what rabbits he has managed to pull out of the hat.
First thing back was a
debate on how weíre going to reform the National Qualifications offered
in Scotland. Fiona Hyslop has brought forward some radical and
far-sighted ideas and itís interesting to see that some people are
looking forward to a better education system while some are just
determined to fight the battles that they have been fighting for years.
The plans include the Baccalaureates that were in our manifesto and a
renewed flexibility in exam timetabling, allowing pupils to sit exams
earlier if theyíre ready for it. Thereís a lot to be done and a lot of
thinking to get us there, but Iím fairly confident that testing will be
used as a diagnostic tool in the future rather than as a means of
ranking schools and consigning far too many youngsters to a perceived
failure. Fionaís right to take us down this path, it wonít be easy but
it is right, and it will help make our education system fit for the
purpose we need it to serve.
That debate was followed
by Sandra Whiteís Memberís Debate on the proposed job cuts at the Herald
newspaper stable. Newsquest, the owners of the Herald, the Evening
Times and the Sunday Herald, seem determined to push ahead, constantly
cutting the staff back, cutting back the resources, but still expecting
a quality newspaper to be produced. I wonder whether they realise what
they bought or whether they think that the Herald is just another
regional title. Thereís a long way to go in that dispute yet.
In the evening there was
a reception for the venison industry - both public and private sector -
with the organisations involved being the Association of Deer Management
Groups, British Deer Farmers Association, Cairngorms National Park
Authority, Deer Commission for Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland,
Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Quality Wild Venison.
Excellent samples on offer and a cooking demonstration going on in one
area of the Garden Lobby while a butchery demonstration was going on in
another. The Presiding Officer made sure that Iíll be off for a day up
the hills stalking followed by an exploration of how the meat gets to
the plate Ė itís going to be interesting, I think.
Thursday rolled around
and we got to First Ministerís Questions. I finally, finally, won
through in the contest to ask a question and prepared to ask the First
Minister how the Treasuryís decision on funding the new Forth Road
Bridge would affect other capital spend in Scotland. Of course the
opposition leaders get to ask their questions first, and Iain Gray asked
about the bridge, followed by Annabel Goldie asking about Ö the bridge.
There was me sitting with my question (you canít change the subject
matter) and watching the Labour and Conservative leaders chewing away at
the possible routes for me to ask my supplementary question. I had to
keep changing where I was going until I finally got it down to whether
we need more borrowing powers (councils have borrowing powers but the
Scottish Government doesnít, bizarrely).
The answer from Alex
Salmond Ė that Iíd hit exactly the right point. Does that mean Iím
better than the leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties? My
tongue is firmly in my cheek, of course.
Thereíll be more to tell
next week, but thatís all for just now.