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.