Parliament: March 2010 Archives

Three equal parts of the SNP.

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coaldigger.jpgWithout wishing to preempt the magnificent Macnumpty Sunday Whip, Thursday's vote against Hunterston and other unabated coal was notable in another respect: every option got support from precisely ten SNP MSPs. 

Here's the list of the virtuous, the villainous and those in between, those who actively abstained. Others, like SNP Ministers, were either absent or didn't press a button.

Those in favour of the motion:
Alasdair Allan
Aileen Campbell
Willie Coffey
Kenny Gibson 
Jamie Hepburn 
Anne McLaughlin
Stuart McMillan 
Shirley-Anne Somerville 
Dave Thompson 
Bill Wilson

Those opposed to the motion:
Brian Adam 
Angela Constance
Joe FitzPatrick 
Christine Grahame 
Christopher Harvie 
Bill Kidd  
Michael Matheson 
Alasdair Morgan 
Gil Paterson
Sandra White

Those abstaining from the vote:
Nigel Don 
Bob Doris
Linda Fabiani 
Rob Gibson 
Tricia Marwick 
Stewart Maxwell 
Ian McKee
Christina McKelvie 
Maureen Watt  
John Wilson

You don't often get to see the various strands within the SNP: in fact, this is the only major division I can remember since 2007. There are a few patterns in it. The three ex-ministers all abstained. The older hands tended to vote against us, as did the most obvious wannabe Ministers, while the newer intake tended to be with us. I'd certainly rather it was that way round.

Most curious of those who voted with us is Kenny Gibson, though. I like Kenny personally, and he stuck to his guns on marine reserves during the Marine Bill debate. But as far as I can tell he's also against nuclear power and, notoriously, against wind too. There's your energy gap right there.

All the other parties went by party line, incidentally: Labour and Liberals with Greens, Tories against. The Tories had sounded reasonable in the morning before the debate, so that rather mystified me.

Burying coal.

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nonewcoal.jpgThere's an awful lot of work going on outside office hours ahead of the election, and this week we were reminded what it's all about. 

On Wednesday we circulated a paper calling into question the practicality of carbon capture and storage: in it the Economideses conclude that "underground carbon dioxide sequestration via bulk CO2 injection is not feasible at any cost".

With Labour having a sensible but uncontroversial motion about climate change up for debate on Thursday, Patrick then moved an amendment to add the following text at the end (his speech here):

", and also opposes new unabated coal power capacity, and therefore calls on the Scottish Government to reject plans to build a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston given that large-scale CCS at existing coal or gas plants has never been successfully demonstrated."

Ministers went into panic mode. Despite having themselves laid the groundwork for a possible judicial review by ramming Hunterston into the National Planning Framework 2 after consultation, they decided they could not vote or speak to this issue or whip their MSPs (more on this later).

At this point I thought there was a chance we might win the vote but more or less by default. But at 5pm we got an absolute majority in Parliament, with Patrick's amendment carried by 66 to 26, with 10 abstentions (that doesn't include Ministers, who simply didn't vote).

It's exceptionally significant, perhaps the biggest policy win of this Parliamentary session. The plant proposed would have just a quarter of its pollution captured, even assuming that proves feasible, and it's hard now to see it going ahead. 

That would first require investors to have confidence in the plant, and they're unlikely to if Parliament doesn't. Even if they press on, it'd require SNP Ministers in a minority administration to take a decision against the clear will of Parliament. As Sir Humphrey put it, that would be "a brave decision, Minister".

But the vote goes beyond that - it expresses a clear will against all new unabated coal capacity, not just that proposed for Hunterston. Given there's no majority in Parliament for nuclear either, this is a very clear course set for clean renewable energy as the basis for Scotland's future energy supply. It's also an outcome which more than justifies all the campaigning Greens are doing across the country.

Bridge over troubled voters.

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Thumbnail image for elephantbridge.jpgLast year we commissioned polling that showed 57% of Scots wanted to repair the existing Forth Road Bridge, not build a new one, with just 34% in favour of the SNP plans. 

Leaving aside the environmental issues, the costs are simply incomparable. For an absolute maximum of £122m the cables on the existing bridge could be fixed, and this would allow us to save billions.

But congestion, they say, what about the congestion? And it's true, recabling would require some partial closures. But now we know what extraordinary congestion would come from building the new bridge: there would be contraflows for a "substantial part" of the three and a half years it would take to redo the crucial Ferrytoll roundabout where the A90 approaches the bridges at the north end.

That's just one part of the associated work, if perhaps the most complicated, and it's yet another nail in the coffin of this absurd and deeply unpopular project.

The medium is the massage.

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nationalistrealism.jpgTwice this week we've found out more about the SNP's attitude to broadcasting. First, as the Scottish Government, they paid STV £150,000 of taxpayers' money to promote the Homecoming tartan-fest "for the benefit of the Government". 

I have some sympathy for their concerns here, and the BBC's interpretations of balance are often pretty hard to justify. For instance, "Adolf Brent" had been an MEP for less than six months before getting his Question Time invite, but despite Green MSPs having been elected to Holyrood for more than ten years none of my colleagues have ever been asked on.

Furthermore, there's no question that these debates will skew matters in favour of the three largest Westminster parties, even if they aren't shown in Scotland, given that the papers and news reports will be full of it. Nick "Anonymous" Clegg will get a stature he doesn't deserve in particular.

But the SNP response to the outcome of the debates debate is unacceptable. They're taking a single decision and using it as the basis for threatening the licence fee. Forget saving 6 Music and the Asian Network: it looks now like the whole of public service broadcasting in Scotland wouldn't be safe in their hands.

It's petty, it's childish, it's unprincipled, and it's bad politics.Taken together, these two stories suggest an SNP leadership which supports the Berlusconi model: the broadcasters should serve the incumbents, not the public.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Parliament category from March 2010.

Parliament: February 2010 is the previous archive.

Parliament: April 2010 is the next archive.