A Parliament past its sell by date

The last couple of weeks at Holyrood have served to show two things.

Firstly, that limping to the finishing line of the final year in this Parliamentary term is no way to govern a country.  Yes, there is important business still to pass through Holyrood’s corridors but  it will be pockmarked by puerile posturing all the way.  The politics will stink and worst of all, there is a very good chance that some very poor laws are made. 

This is how it will work:  the SNP Government will try to score points by pushing through its agenda no matter the cost (or the price) and the opposition parties will do their utmost to score points by failing to allow the Scottish Government to win on anything.  It’s the kind of stuff that gets our politicians out of bed in the morning but makes the rest of us want to pull the duvet up over our heads.  There is no sensible business to be had, and worse even the officials will switch off around mid February.  We will effectively be in political limbo until 6th May. 

Even the budget, the most important political transaction of this parliamentary session, will be reduced to a bunfight.  The opposition parties reckon they have a wounded lion in Swinney and are determined to finish him off.   This will be their focus, not the need to determine how to steer the country through the toughest of economic times nor redesign our public services so they are fit for the 21st Century.  It’s an atmosphere not at all conducive to enlightened nor inspiring politics.

Secondly, our Parliament, or rather our Parliamentarians, have forgotten their purpose.  The vote to dismiss Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance (Scotland) bill  at the first hurdle demonstrates this perfectly.   The absence of the opposition benches for the debate on the Afghan war highlights it eloquently.  Frankly, our Parliament is full of fearties – here were two great, big, meaty issues and Holyrood failed the test. 

It failed to lead for Scotland in developing the kind of policy we need in a new century that provides people with dignity in dying.  It flunked on creating a framework that acknowledges the state’s role in legislating to empower individuals to have full control over the most important aspect of their lives:  how they die.  Instead, MSP after MSP lined up to vote against the bill either to assuage vested interests (ie votes) or to appease their own consciences and beliefs (without actually declaring a personal interest in either).  Lost in all this, were the interests of the people of Scotland or any cognisance of my key theme of the moment – what kind of Scotland do we want to be?  Margo MacDonald, whose personal interest in this subject is all too painfully clear, deserved better and I hope she doesn’t give up. 

Our MSPs also demonstrated that they are obsessed with the wee and the inconsequential.  It’s the big stuff they ignore or fail to get their heads around.  Yet, ironically, all this week everyone to varying degrees was demanding the right to extend the Parliament’s powers so that it can stop being cowed by its lack of status.   The failure to take seriously the attempt to debate the issues surrounding the Afghan war – and its far reaching effects on Scotland and her people – demonstrates in all its awful glory that the biggest obstacle to Holyrood’s maturity – and therefore, Scotland’s ability to think, see and act like a grow up nation – is its occupants. 

And I’m not the only one to be disappointed: Hugh Henry, in his acceptance speech as the well deserved Politician of the Year for 2010, seized the opportunity to fire off a few choice words and Jack McConnell, former First Minister and soon to retire as an MSP, wrote this forthright article in the Telegraph a fortnight ago. 

As a valedictory broadside, it could not be more timely.  Our Parliament has become pedestrian and lacklustre, and needs sharpening and loosening up.  As Jack says, the people of Scotland deserve more, not less.  Hear, hear.

5 thoughts on “A Parliament past its sell by date

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  3. I find the idea that MSPs voted against Margo’s Bill because they are scared of losing votes quite bizarre, given that public opinion is largely on Margo’s side. If they were looking for votes they would have voted for the Bill, not against it.

    Neither do I think that MSPs are obliged to vote for legislation simply because it is radical or controversial. They should consider it on its merits. In my view most of them did that – setting aside the people who reached a decision based on their religious beliefs, who were a minority.

    The day MSPs feel obliged to vote for something they do not agree with simply because they do not want to appear to be “fearties” will be a sad one.

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  5. Formidable prose, oh winged one..! One aspect which I would also append is the failure (largely) of so-called consensus politics which was to be the game-changer of the Holyrood set-up. Too easily, the attempts to broker deals and work things out together have now slipped back to simple “we all have more votes than you”. But an early election would be an admission of failure, so we will all crawl slowly to the finish line in May (no prizes for predicting that). Thankfully, the term of a parliament covers an essential period of governance as well as the opportunity (privilege) to legislate, so while the parly (en-feebled as you correctly describe) may shut itself down, the proper business of running the state (such as it is) will continue.

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