More wishes for the Holyrood fairy

There’s a lot of stuff swirling around the burdz brain at the moment.  Lots of ifs, buts and maybes about what the next five years hold, the meaning of the SNP win and the consequences of the Labour rout.  But having rubbed shoulders with Mr Positivity himself on Friday night, Stephen Noon, I’m holding fast to the mantra of positivity not negativity.  For a week at least.

So, let’s rejoice.  The Scottish Parliament has its first female Presiding Officer, and you don’t have to scroll far to see that the burd is very happy that Tricia Marwick won that vote.  She will be her own woman, make no mistake and anyone who has doubts about this being a dangerous decision, given the SNP’s omnipotence on the Parly floor, well wait and see.  I have no doubts whatsoever.  Meanwhile, let’s hear it for another historic moment: a woman holding the second most important and high-profile job in Scottish politics for the first time.  About time too.

One wish granted then, what other, positive wishes would I like the Holyrood fairy to grant?

First, that this next SNP government does something fairly unobvious and puts children, especially vulnerable children, front and central to everything it does in this session.  It has some good policy commitments that if fulfilled, will make a huge difference to children’s lives and set the nation fair in terms of its future.  Don’t allow them to be sidelined behind bigger headline grabbing stuff.  Children matter; let’s commit to making a difference to their lives, and consequently, the lives of their families and communities. It’s about seeing policy and legislation as having a people-focused purpose and not a structural one.  Be child-centred in thought and approach, and transformational change is within our grasp.  Thus, minimum pricing, early years, violence reduction, educational reform, wider public sector change, localism, support for carers, capital investment – indeed, nearly every policy area, if pitched from the perspective of what will make a difference to our children’s lives, can be viewed and acted upon differently.  And it will work.

Second, give us the Minister for Children and Early Years we had last time.  Adam Ingram did a fine job over the last four years and set in train a range of change programmes.  Allow him to complete unfinished business.  Continuity counts.

Third, as it approaches its adolescence, the Parliament is growing up and fast.  But just as parenting adolescents is very different from parenting toddlers and tweenies, so our Parliamentary structures, rules and procedures need to mature.  A review is timely.  Indeed, if Tricia Marwick wants to set out her stall she could do worse than invite Hugh Henry to chair a short term review group on making Holyrood fit for purpose.  The debates are too short, business is shoe-horned into an artificial timeline, the committees are overloaded and unable or unwilling to take a more pro-active role in generating their own business, and the procedures are designed for coalition government.  Of course, the chances of the SNP voting for measures that might remove their inbuilt majority are slim but that too will be a test.  The issue is this:  the Parliament as currently formatted will not be fit for the purpose of devolution max or indeed, independence.  It needs to think and act bigger.

Fourth, an international focus.  The more confident we’ve got about using and articulating our powers, the more insular and parochial we’ve become.  Yet, a place on the world stage, however constrained, should have broadened not narrowed our horizons.  You can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of debates, either through government or party business, or even member’s motions, that have allowed issues furth of Scotland to be debated and discussed.  We’ve become obsessed with our own navels, even when we have a good story to share.  Our international development work, the role of companies overseas and of Scottish charities, the linkages between policies at home and those determined in Europe and even beyond.  I also want to know more about how folk do policy in other lands.  What can we learn from how Sweden, Japan, Canada, Belgium and Brazil do education, healthcare, childcare and public transport? And what ideas can we export?  Our place in the world vis a vis others, and our role in supporting, cajoling or downright opposing things happening furth of our firths, matters.  A little less me, and a lot more us, please.

Finally, in the run up to the independence referendum, a proper debate, one in which all the parties engage in freely and honestly and do not resort to dissembling.  The election is over, the people have chosen, there is now a responsibility on all to allow the people of Scotland to make up their own minds.  To do so, they need information and ideas that have not been distorted through party coloured lenses.  Again, the Presiding Officer could, if she wants, play a big role in this, by commissioning the Scottish Parliament’s Information Officer (SPICE) to produce briefings that act as a kind of Channel 4 Factcheck.  Heck, let’s have a genuinely cross party committee – with non-aligned members, or at least, folk of independent mind, co-opted – to start the deliberations and engagement.  Nothing to stop it happening if everyone agrees to it.

The last thing we want for the next four years is mudslinging and yes, distraction from the job at hand because the politicians prefer to focus on their pet project.  The biggest potential turn off to a high turnout in a referendum is for voters to be excluded from a partisan bunfight.  Engage with people, not each other, please.  The sooner, the better.

A positive wish list then, or at least, a wish list for positivity.  And a poke in the eye for all those who doubted the burd could do it.

15 thoughts on “More wishes for the Holyrood fairy

  1. Pingback: A Flutter on Friday 13 May « A Burdz Eye View

  2. Good post. Agree with everything. Think more support should be given to children who are leaving care homes at age 16 years and left to fend for themselves, contributing to growing numbers of NEETS in Scotland

    Agree, also, on the need for a full and robust debate prior to an independence referendum. However, I’m concerned that it’s going to be difficult to distinguish between propaganda and what is real, particularly for a lot of first time voters. The challenge is surely to make sure that the electorate are making an informed choice and not one based on conjecture, falsehoods and smear campaigns, which inevitably will be the response from Westminster.

    I’d like to see the parties also use different means to try to engage the electorate over this issue. For example, why can’t they do roadshows/mini festivals at places like George Square/SECC where they can do a free 2 day programme of events? Go out and meet the public and speak to them directly.

    International dimension HUGELY important. Hopefully a successful 2014 Commonwealth Games event will promote Scotland in a more positive light: aye we can – rather than naw, ye didnae.

  3. Agree on expansion of our international role and greater co-ordination by Scottish government of SDI and Visitscotland. Time to enhance the specifically Scottish brand overseas. Ten years after it began, the Scottish Affairs Office in the USA is still housed in the British Emabssy in DC. Don’t imagine the FCO are hugely supportive of our government’s agenda, so let’s get our office out of the Embassy and into a Scotland House. We should also be engaging more with the diaspora in Canada and other commonwealth countries. There is enormous potential there, not least for our hard pressed Universities. But agree with others that the social justice, aid aspect of Scotland’s international agenda should always be front and foremost.

  4. There are an awful lot of thoughts swirling round my head too at this point in time and they haven’t yet come to rest, far less take a form where I can make full sense of them.

    They will over the next few weeks – I might even blog about some of them myself – or comment on other blogs🙂

    What I’m thinking of is how, for Scotland Holyrood isn’t the only show in town – it is just one level of government.

    For now it is just a one party show! Yes the SNP have earned a majority democratically. But they got 45% of the vote and a small, albeit unprecedented, majority.

    When Labour lick their wounds it will be a two party show. And since both are centre left this could be the argument of small differences.

    There are big issues to do with our economy and prosperity, the deficit and the resources for the public sector. the relative strengths of the public and private sector. and so on and so forth.

    And as you say there are big international questions.

    This is wider than Holyrood – in fact there are other places where the debate happens and decisions are taken – there are other contexts to our national life where the dynamics and players are very different to Holyrood.

    Lastly, I’m also conscious how the SNP have brilliantly brought together a coalition of non-Labour Scotland. I hope these different groups of rural and urban – liberal and green and nationalist – left and right – can all feel represented in the parliament. And, as you say, parliament needs to engage with the people not just the Holyrood village!

    It does worry me a little that for some in Scotland, unless we are careful, Holyrood could become irrelevant in the next 5 years!

    It will be an interesting debate on independence and various alternatives for autonomy and what each means. But this won’t be the only story and it won’t be the only context for our politics.

    I hope we don’t forget that and can take a big broad view and see the world we live in from a multitude of angles!

  5. It has turned Friday, after all.

  6. Excellent post Kate! Chock full of constructive, helpful, interesting ideas and observations. I completely agree about being child-focused, that would make an enormous difference to so many lives and would anchor all debates and policy decisions in what really matters. Likewise the stuff about learning more from other countries, or at least being aware of their approaches and looking outwards more. That would be wonderful. I hope all the new MSPs read this post!

    • Thanks Jenny! Means a lot coming from you. Though you know better than me that there is something to be said for being gender focused in policy terms, as by itself it means children will benefit. Something for a later post methinks… especially when I want to dig folk up! Ha.

  7. I am also very keen that the Parliament and the government do more to strengthen and extend our international links. One of the clear benefits of independence will be the opportunity to learn and share good practice with other countries. The recent debate, or lack of debate, about the structure of the police is a good example of an issue where we could easily learn from the experience of others. How are the police organised in Denmark, Norway, Victoria in Australia or New Zealand? Let’s engage directly with the rest of the world.

  8. So pleased you highlighted the international dimension Kate. If we are to lead this country to independence the Scot Gov must demonstrate the difference independent national action means, both as a ‘good’ in itself vis-a-vis global events (I was disappointed that the minority SNP govt kept its head well below the parapet when the Arab Spring kicked off in Tunisia) & as a way of illustrating the global difference Scotland, back on the world stage, can make. Time to fashion a separate distinctively Scottish foreign policy that anchors both our place in the world and, in the run up to the referendum, our sense of ourselves as Scots as part of the global community.

    • Couldn’t agree more Ron. And aside from that, I’m interested in what happens beyond my own doorstep, even if our MSPs aren’t. Was very conscious that we were all up to our armpits in the election when big stuff was happening out there in the world, that was somewhat more meaningful than the latest poll ratings. And yes, guilty as charged! So will be making a conscious effort with the blogging to take a more global perspective and interest in foreign and international matters. Be good for me, if no one else!

      • Appreciate your posts Kate even if – occasionally – I don’t always agree with everything you say!

        Looking forward to your take on international issues🙂

      • I wouldn’t want nor expect folk to agree with me always. Most of the time is fine! Ha! No, your comments and disagreements always welcome.

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