4 February 2010

Parliamentary jiggerypokery in Holyrood...

Intelligence and low animal cunning are certainly to be distinguished from one another. Among many sloppy-minded souls, a ratty sensibility is retained which allows them to scamper and writhe and insinuate, despite themselves. In this ledger of life, politicians are rich indeed. To whit and in an apparent resplendent example of the genre, the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill will not be considered, as the Bill’s sponsor clearly anticipated, by the parliament’s Health and Sport Committee. Instead, the Parliamentary Bureau has decided that an ad hoc committee should be formed to scrutinise the proposed law. We needn’t be coy about who is being discussed here – the Parliamentary Bureau formally only consists of five people. Bruce Crawford (SNP), Paul Martin (Labour), David McLetchie (Tory) and Mike Rumbles (Lib) with Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson chairing.

So far, so factual. But why the change? One can certainly conceive of justifications. Principled notions, no doubt, well argued, clearly articulated. After all, the legislation could be approached in a number of different ways. For me, predictably enough, it is primarily a question of justice. Others notice the word ‘doctor’ contained in the text and the broad questions of ‘health’ seem germane and primary. On that basis, in theory, a case for an ad hoc committee can certainly be constructed.

But Hamish McDonnell, writing in the fresh-fangled Caledonian Mercury, suggests an alternative account of the Bureau’s actions – one that returns us to the beady-eyed calculation which informs political choices. Suggests McDonnell, the choice to ad hoc out Margo’s proposal is concerned with the (presumably conventional) Gubbin’s turn political principle which deals out convenorships of these occasional committees based on a ranking order. If the End of Life Assistance Bill had been treated as a health matter, and no extraordinary ad hoc committee formed – an SNP MSP would chair the ad hoc committee which is anticipated to deal with the independence referendum bill. With just a touch of legerdemain, Margo’s proposal is slipped into the ad-hoc convenorship cycle. Meaning that an SNP MSP would chair the committee looking into assisted dying – while a Labour MSP would be installed as the convenor of the parliamentary group due to Salmond and shoal’s proposals for a popular plebiscite on Scotland’s constitutional future.

Assuming McDonnell is on to something here – this really is a sly spot of rodentship. And as I said, we can single out the offenders – McLetchie, Rumbles, Martin. I’m not convinced, per se, that the loss of Christine Grahame et al. is a great tragedy and that the scrutiny will suffer as a result. We have good grounds to be highly suspicious of this doughy triumvirate's motives, however. Particularly since the Unionists got exactly what they wanted, we might want to flatter them a little by suggesting they intended to bring about that consequence by deliberate parliamentary stratagem, as opposed miraculously landing on their arses rather than their heads. Obviously, they deny it. Insist they are simple stumbling souls, without front - nothing further from their mind than the referendum. Justifying quotes insisting on their blandness from wee man Martin and others appear in the Scotsman this morning. Although I quite appreciate Margo’s irritation – particularly at the sense that her Bill being hijacked in a shamelessly politicking fashion – that’s how the cookie crumbles. If you were particularly keen on the health committee, if you anticipate further jiggerypokery in terms of nominations to this ad hoc committee, materially damaging the Bill’s prospects – you’d have other grounds for fury. The latter, in particular, would be disgraceful. Why feign free votes, if a stitch up is firmly intended? For myself, however, I’m not persuaded that such a fix is in view here or that this manipulation is to the material injury of the discussion on assisted dying. As for the referendum - the sly spirit of Rattus scotticus politicus continues to haunt Holyrood's oakentree rafters.


  1. Perhaps the chicanery has a course to run, if Margo can be persuaded by Alex Salmond to withdraw her bill and have it reinstated after the referendum?

    The hypocrisy in the Unionist position is blatant and breathtaking. Considering that the PM is punting for constitutional changes in the UK Parliament with the promise of a referendum. Trying so desperately to keep Labour in power.

    The coalition deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru included a pledge to hold a referendum, if there was sufficient support, on primary law-making powers before elections in May 2011.

    Yet we see the petulance and self-interest of the Unionist cabal in Hoyrood, denying Scotland just such a referendum to let Scots have a say on their constitutional future. As Iain Gray said in Holyrood, “we know the result.”

    The Unionist parties are just adding to the flames of independence by treating the Scottish electorate in such a shabby hypocritical manner. There is fear driving their decision making, as they see the ground falling beneath their feet. Independence is now inevitable because of them.

  2. On point (1), there is not a snowball's chance in hell that is going to happen. And quite right too. I'm sure that the Maximum Eck would never ask and am equally sure I know where Margo would tell him where to go if he tried.

    On the second point, you may well be right. Certainly, this isn't in the spirit of fair dealing - nor is it the mark of a confident Unionism, brashly throwing down the gauntlet. I agree with you - the Welsh example is particularly problematic in constructing a defensible referendum-hostile position. I argued as much a while back after seeing Rhodri Morgan. Admittedly, the hasty Richard Thomson had already beaten me to it...