from recess. Two weeks that included conference in
Inverness. I’m finding that
the party has a fine spirit about it these days, a feeling that
we’re moving quietly and confidently, making the right moves for
Scotland, moving Scotland forward. We seem to be speaking
with one voice about where we need to be going and what we need
to be doing, making Scotland a better place to be.
delightful, too, to se so many dedicated young people at party
conference these days, their energy and drive and their sense of
fun helps keep the rest of us going and gives us just the wee
perk-up that we need. We came away from conference with a
job to do – a job that we’re setting about doing. The
party is out working in the Glasgow North East by-election and
we’re all getting stuck into our own campaigns across the
country for the UK election.
It’s going to be an interesting time, the Conservatives back in
the race properly for the first time in ages, Labour looking old
and tired. Cameron and Brown will roar and posture, shake
their manes and preen themselves, but it’s certain that
Scotland’s interests won’t figure very highly in either of their
minds. There will be one party sticking up for Scotland –
and only one – the SNP. We saw at conference the
determination of the Cabinet Secretaries to deliver for Scotland
in their areas, we saw the spark that the Ministers added, we
saw the imagination of the delegates, we got a sense of the
determination of the activists, and we got ourselves onto the
front foot for campaigning.
This was a
conference that delivered the party’s activists in fine fettle
for the battles ahead. Contrast our solidity and unity
with Labour’s disarray and disloyalty. They’re managing to
make a bad situation worse, running to the press with
tittle-tattle, accusing their leadership of not being up to the
job (a fair point, really), and still bitter about having lost
power in 2007. Iain
Gray has been dreadful in the chamber and not much better
elsewhere, evincing no leadership, no imagination, and no vision
for Scotland’s future. He reshuffled his team this week
and it looks as tired and uninspiring as it was before, they
still carp and whinge instead of offering an alternative to the
plans of the SNP, and they were finally, finally dragged in
petulance to admit that John Swinney has been right all along
about the London Treasury withholding funds that Scotland needs.
Iain Gray finally wrote to the Chancellor this week to tell him
he should open up the coffers to allow John Swinney to
accelerate capital spend in Scotland. About time too.
to get the General election underway, to get on with the job of
winning, to make a difference for
Scotland, making sure that Graeme Horne
gets elected. He was at a National Conversation event in
South Lanarkshire with Councillor John McNamee and so we had a
chance for a wee natter about his campaign and about how it’s
going to be a hard battle (but worth it when we win). I’m
glad he’s got a sense of humour, he’s going to need that – and
plenty of stamina – in the months ahead.
Parliamentary business this week has been ‘interesting’ – we’re
scrutinising the budget in committees just now and we had
Mike Russell and Fiona Hyslop and a
wheenge of their civil servants along to evidence sessions at
the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee on
Wednesday morning. We didn’t gave them a right good
grilling, toasted on both sides and flambéed for good measure!
Well, not really, we’re far too nice to do that, but we began
the process and we’ll be calling them back in again, no doubt,
when we’ve got more to ask them. It’s funny going straight
into consideration of the Budget Bill as soon as we come back,
we only just finished our report on the Public Services Reform
Bill before recess and they’re entirely different Bills, and
different kinds of Bill to boot. Switching between them
gives you a strange wee sense of dislocation for a while before
you settle into it and start crunching the numbers.
afternoon was good, too,
Fiona Hyslop making a statement in chamber about additional
student support, another £30 million going to help students get
through. The support is focused on groups of students who
have not been well provided for by the current system – an
attempt to make sure that they can complete their courses.
Those groups include students from poorer backgrounds and
independent students (who don’t get any money from parents);
there was a big investment in childcare provision to allow
parents to study more easily as well, helping cure one of the
biggest headaches that parents face. The NUS was delighted
with it, welcoming the move, and you would have thought that the
opposition parties would have the grace to do the same – but
they didn’t. They claimed it was all their idea but that
it didn’t go far enough (which means, of course, that they think
that their own ideas don’t go far enough), called for even more
money to be pumped into student support when it’s being cut
elsewhere, and even called for tuition fees to be reintroduced.
hardly a strong enough word for it.
moved onto other matters. In the morning we had the first
stage of the Marine Bill – nothing to do with the armed forces,
this is to create a legislative framework for regulating
Scotland’s seas. Richard
Lochhead is piloting it through and he sailed nice and easily
through Stage 1 today. We had Question Time and First
Minister’s Questions as usual, and nothing very interesting to
report from any of it, and then we had John Swinney giving the
opposition a lesson in the economy and in how to debate.
Another excellent and flowing performance from John, another
demonstration of his complete mastery of his brief, and another
indication that Scotland is safe in the SNP’s hands.
I have to
dash now, I’m going to an Ecumenical Service of Remembrance for
our Armed Forces in Our Lady of Good Aid Cathedral in
Motherwell and I have to dash to
beat the traffic.