Letter from Edinburgh
I’m writing this after buying a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar in the parliamentary canteen. I needed a caffeine burst to encourage the grey cells to commit thoughts to paper.
On the way back to the office I bumped into a senior Scottish journalist. “Where are you taking the kids on holiday Tavish?” was his opening question. Not “what did you think of Nick Clegg’s body language at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons?” or “How will Mike Moore do as new Scottish Secretary?”
The question reflects the time of year. First the political action is at Westminster. This week the Scottish Parliament debated a really good committee report on banks and the fall-out from the taxpayers’ investment in RBS and the Lloyds Group. We also debated big cuts in staff at Greater Glasgow Health Board and who’s responsible.
But most journalists struggled to get these important stories onto the front page of the national newspapers. Secondly, once we get to June, parliament looks forward to July and the school holidays. Journalists and MSPs alike, or at least those of us with school-age kids, look forward to the break from day-to-day politics.
Yet it’s a busy month. A Children’s Hearing Bill is into its later stages. Government, both past and present, has had four attempts at reform. The current proposals are for a centralised national body.
My natural default position is that a centralising agenda rarely suits Shetland. Our local Children’s Panel, which makes decisions about children in difficult circumstances while working closely with the key agencies from police to the council and others, has had its concerns about what’s proposed. One size fits all change rarely works.
The Crofting Bill is also on its last stages. A body of opinion holds the Bill isn’t worth having. There are very different views about the future of crofting and whether legislation is necessary or will achieve change that people can broadly agree with.
So some argue that the Crofters Commission should simply get on and do its job, perhaps with more determination on absenteeism and other matters than in the past. In other words a structure exists but the delivery could be improved.
Others say that, instead of ministers appointing commissioners, they should be elected by the crofting counties. That could be exciting, and that’s just in Bressay.
And finally the highly contentious Alcohol Bill is also reaching its final stages. This one is particularly unfortunate. Parliament can all agree about tackling alcoholism, the selling of drink by supermarkets at way below cost price, aggressive promotions and other marketing meas-ures.
I’ve seen the loaded trolley leaving Lerwick’s supermarkets with nothing but cases. I’ve done it myself. So the government here is proposing a minimum price. But it may be illegal.
Tavish Scott MSP