You are currently browsing the daily archive for March 25, 2021.

Parliament is entering Easter recess on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

A few notable news items follow from both Houses — and the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Parliament — MSPs standing down

A number of MSPs are standing down from their seats in Holyrood. Scots will elect new MSPs in May.

The Scotsman has a useful list, complete with photos, cited below. Emphases mine:

While all 129 of Holyrood’s seats will be contested at this year’s ballot, more than a quarter of the current crop of MSPs are standing down – including high profile figures like Ruth Davidson, Iain Gray and Jeane Freeman.

Highlights follow.

Independent

I will miss Ken Macintosh, who was a faultless convener presiding over fractious debates during the past year:

Ken Macintosh has been an MSP since the opening of the parliament in 1999, before unsuccessfully seeking the Labour leadership twice. He was elected as the parliament’s fifth presiding officer in 2016, but announced in September that he would not be seeking re-election as an MSP.

Scottish Conservatives

Ruth Davidson will be elevated to the House of Lords:

The former Scottish Tories leader took over the party’s reins at Holyrood once more when MP Douglas Ross was elected as the new leader last year. Ms Davidson will now take up a seat in the House of Lords.

Scottish Labour

Iain Gray is ending a long career as an MSP:

Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and is currently Labour’s education spokesman at Holyrood.

SNP

Here is the list of SNP MSPs who are standing down. Many have been in Holyrood for a number of years:

Jeane Freeman was in charge of health during the coronavirus crisis. Many residents of Scottish care homes died during that time.

One wonders what she will do next:

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed she will not seek re-election. The Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley MSP said she had “more she wanted to do” outside of politics.

The Scotsman has an interesting article from 2018 about her career history at that time:

Jeane Freeman, for it was she, has moved on to greater things as Health Minister in the Scottish Government. In the first half of this decade, she was a useful cog in the SNP machine as a former Labour apparatchik who, when the wind changed, discovered she was really a Nationalist.

Long a habituée of the quango circuit, Ms Freeman’s new appointments included the disastrous Scottish Police Authority. In her peak year of 2013-14, she pulled in £57,000 from that source alone. There were a couple of NHS roles, not forgetting the Judicial Appointments Board.

All this added up to 376 paid days in the financial year. One might have thought the Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments (for such a person exists) might have done the arithmetic and asked questions but that is to over-estimate the vigilance of our non-barking watchdogs.

At the same time, Ms Freeman fronted “Women for Independence” and ran a lobbying firm which targeted the public sector. When a member of the public tabled a Freedom of Information request in 2015 about her business meetings with Scottish Ministers and officials, he was given the classic brush-off – the question would cost too much to answer.

Not unreasonably, he then wondered how lobbying activity could be monitored if ministers refused to provide information about their contacts on such implausible grounds. Another of our civic protectors, the Freedom of Information Commissioner, dismissed his complaint. Scotland really is a village …

There are still individuals floating around the Scottish quango circuit who were being put up for every chairmanship that occurred 20 years ago. The qualifications are that they challenge nothing, remain anonymous and nod their heads when directed by ministers. Political influence is as prevalent as it ever was – just much less transparent. Ask Ms Freeman.

This all fits into the wider pattern of centralisation which has systematically downgraded every other centre of influence within Scotland – public bodies, local government, police boards, funding-dependent third sector organisations – in order to create a closely integrated structure which brooks no challenge.

There is a powerful political agenda waiting to be created around the need to restore diversity and scrutiny within Scotland in order to challenge the power of the centre. Some might see that requirement as a paradoxical outcome of devolution while others recognise it as depressing – but largely predictable.

Linda Fabiani was the convener for the Holyrood inquiry examining the way Alex Salmond’s case was conducted. Hmm. Interestingly, The Scotsman makes no mention of this:

Ms Fabiani was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as an MSP for Central Scotland, but since 2011 she has represented East Kilbride.

Then there’s Mark McDonald:

The Aberdeen Donside MSP resigned from the SNP after sending a woman an inappropriate text message which referenced a sex act.

House of Commons news

Historic Westminster by-election in Scotland

A historic by-election will be taking place in Scotland as the SNP’s Neil Gray announced he would be standing down. He made his final speech in Westminster — the mother of all Parliaments — on Tuesday, March 23:

An arcane parliamentary point needs to be explained:

Although the actual Manor of Northstead in Yorkshire no longer exists, the estate has been redeveloped as a park.

In political terms, this is a temporary position for MPs who have resigned and is given out at the pleasure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Wikipedia explains:

By virtue of the fact that it became and was retained as a Lordship of the Crown beyond the sale and eventual disappearance of the estate, since the nineteenth century the post of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead has played a role in the procedure for effecting resignation from the British House of Commons by Members of Parliament (MPs). While no longer having any actual role or responsibility, it remains a nominal paid office of the Crown, a sort of sinecure, appointment to which is one of the things that by law disqualify an MP from the House. This principle goes back to the Act of Settlement 1701, and is now regulated by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Since 1624, MPs have not been permitted to resign their seats directly. While several such offices have been used for this purpose in the past, in the present day only two are used: the Northstead post and that of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham.[1][2]

Appointments to the posts are made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Using two posts allows more than one MP to resign simultaneously, although more commonly, single resignations are effected by alternating appointments to the Northstead and Chiltern Hundreds offices. One of the most recent MPs to be appointed to the Northstead office was former Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his decision to resign from his Parliamentary seat of Witney on 12 September 2016.[5]

Neil Gray was praised again in the House of Commons today during Business Questions, including by Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg. Here are more compliments from Tuesday:

This means there will be a by-election in Gray’s former constituency of Airdrie and Shotts:

This is the first time there will be a Commons by-election in an SNP-held seat:

Boris reasserts his position as Prime Minister

On March 24, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the Liason Committee, comprised of heads of the parliamentary Select Committees.

The session lasted around 90 minutes and covered several topics, one of which was devolution.

Scotland and Wales are trying to whittle away the significance of the UK government.

Stephen Crabb (Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire) asked Boris how he saw his position. He confirmed that he is the Prime Minister of Scotland as well as the United Kingdom:

Part of the answer is to employ civil servants with the ability to accommodate the interests of the United Kingdom as well as those of the devolved nations:

House of Lords news

Two notable things happened in the House of Lords this week.

Unusual tie vote

The Lords voted on an amendment to a Government bill, only to find the result was tied. As such, the amendment failed, meaning that the Government won that round:

Hereditary peer says old biscuits perfectly edible

The House of Lords still has 90 hereditary peers.

One of them is Lord Palmer, whose family part owns the famous biscuit manufacturing firm Huntley and Palmers Ltd.

If anyone in the Lords should know when a biscuit is past its best, it would be he.

I’m bookmarking this for future reference:

With Parliament in recess, I’ll be able to do some springtime projects around the house. If I find a stale biscuit, I’ll let you know.

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