McConnell faces cabinet resistance to smoking ban
JACK McConnell is facing fierce opposition from within his own cabinet over his proposal to introduce a ban on smoking in public places, The Scotsman has learned.
There are one or two senior members of the cabinet who have "reservations" about the wisdom of introducing an all-out ban, but Mr McConnell is still expected to carry the Executive with him when the issue is debated by the cabinet next week.
It is understood that the First Minister will hold out the prospect of some limited concessions, which could be made during the bill’s progress through the parliament, in an attempt to bring the waverers on board.
But he will insist that the Executive takes a strong line and announces its intention to introduce a full ban when the policy is unveiled next week.
A senior Labour source revealed that the cabinet was not united in its approach to the issue, despite the First Minister’s well-publicised favour of an across-the-board ban.
Some ministers are understood to be concerned about the effect a smoking ban would have on Labour’s electoral prospects, particularly as John Reid, the Health Secretary, has publicly questioned the wisdom of an all-out ban.
Mr McConnell will do his best to win over the sceptical ministers at next week’s cabinet meeting, and he expects to succeed, having already garnered the support of a large number of senior colleagues.
The finance minister, Tom McCabe, is an enthusiastic supporter of a ban, as is the deputy first minister, Jim Wallace. Ross Finnie, the environment and rural affairs minister, and Nicol Stephen also support a ban, while Andy Kerr would be expected to support a ban as the minister in charge of the nation’s health.
It is not clear where Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, Margaret Curran, the chief whip, Peter Peacock, the education minister, Malcolm Chisholm, the communities minister, and Patricia Ferguson, the arts minister, stand on the issue, but most would be expected to back a ban, given that it already has the support of the First Minister.
It is understood that Mr McConnell has been surprised by the ferocity of the attacks on the smoking-ban plans by lobby groups representing the pub trade and the tobacco industry. It was with this in mind that Mr McConnell went on the offensive yesterday, issuing a thinly veiled threat to lobbyists that he would not be swayed by their arguments.
He said: "We are not going to be pressurised by any side of the argument, nor by any attempts to try to knock us off course in tackling smoking in Scotland.
"We will make the best decision. It will not be in the interests of public opinion. It will be in the national interest."
A spokesman for the First Minister stressed afterwards that this was not meant as a criticism of Dr Reid, but of the lobby groups on both sides of the smoking debate.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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