Thursday, November 01, 2007


An interesting story reaches me regarding yesterday's statement at Holyrood, or rather the lack of one, on the SNP government's decision to end the 'right to buy' for tenants in new social housing. Incensed at the apparent 'leaking' of the announcement before it could be made in Parliament, Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson decided that Cabinet Secretary Nicola Sturgeon would no longer be allowed to make her statement, and that it would instead be taken as read.

While there's no doubt a debate to be had about how much information should be in the public domain before announcements are made to Parliament, whichever way you look at it, this was still a bit embarrassing for the SNP. Tut-tut, slap wrists, go and stand on the naughty step etc. But the best was yet to come.

It later emerged that Labour had issued a press release congratulating the Presiding Officer on taking up THEIR complaint (the implication being that the PO would not have acted without their intervention). But better still, had done so BEFORE the Presiding Officer had even made his ruling public, thus breaking the self-same principle of which they had already accused the SNP of breaking. When challenged on this by the SNPs Alex Neil, the PO apparently did not answer himself, but instead allowed Labour's Jackie Baillie to make a short statement masquerading as a Point of Order, which offered only a heavily qualified apology and threw more mud at the SNP.

Yes, someone on the SNP side probably overstepped the mark somewhere, but when you have the PO declaring that your opponents are, as they say, caught bang to rights (whether they really were or not), it takes a special type of incompetence to then land yourself in it like that. It looks like opposition is a role Labour is still having to learn.

UPDATE: The Official Report is now online. Jackie Baillie's histrionic self-justification needn't detain us, but I do want to draw your attention to David McLetchie's acid put-down of the Presiding Officer. Given what we now know about Ms Baillie's own discourtesy to Parliament and Fergusson's apparent reluctance to censure her for her troubles, it was a barb which he thoroughly deserved to receive.

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Can I draw your attention to a press release that was issued this afternoon by Labour in the Scottish Parliament? It was issued at nine minutes past one o'clock and was about your decision not to allow Nicola Sturgeon to make her statement on housing.

The press release states:

"Following representations from Labour's Business Manager Jackie Baillie MSP, the Presiding Officer has decided to cancel the Health Secretary's statement to Parliament."

Is it right, Presiding Officer, that the Labour Party should issue advance notice in that way, before you have had the opportunity to impart your decision to the full Parliament? Is it in order for anyone in this Parliament to try to give the impression that your decision is based on their representations rather than on your own independent powers of judgment?

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Ms Baillie has indicated that she would like to respond to that. I think it is appropriate that she should do so.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am sure that the chamber agrees that I would not—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order. Please allow Ms Baillie the courtesy of listening to her response.

Jackie Baillie: I hope that the chamber agrees that I would not at any point want to be discourteous to the Parliament or, indeed, to the Presiding Officer. If that has been interpreted as being the case, it is a matter of personal regret. I would take full responsibility for the inadvertent release of a press statement in my name. I wish to make it absolutely clear to the chamber that, in line with the standing orders of the Parliament, the ultimate decision on whether the statement was heard was for the Presiding Officer, and for him alone.

I hope that members and you, Presiding Officer, recognise that I would not abuse this Parliament, unlike some others in the chamber. Frankly, despite Alex Neil's best attempt at smoke and mirrors, there is no getting away from the central reason behind your ruling today, Presiding Officer. That view is shared by all the parties in the chamber, bar one.

The Scottish National Party Government has been found out today. It has no regard for this chamber. It appears to have quite deliberately

Col 2892

released information into the public domain before coming to the chamber. That, as you pointed out today, Presiding Officer, is indeed wholly unacceptable.

David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): Further to the point of order, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether, given that your statement was leaked in advance, you should have made it at all.

The Presiding Officer: I think it is best if this matter is left and we move on, but I will say just one thing: any suggestion that the ruling that I made earlier was in any way influenced by any other party is very wide of the mark. I think that we should move on to other business.

1 comment:

Mark Wadsworth said...

Tee hee! Well spotted.