Conduct unbecoming free parliament
“Tempers flared in Holyrood this week”, you report (23 November). In fact, tempers have been flaring at Holyrood for some time.
I am retired and take considerable pleasure in regularly watching First Minister’s Questions. It is very apparent to me that the Scottish Parliament has become an uncivilised rabble.
Teachers are encouraged to bring school pupils to hear the debates. As a retired teacher, I advise colleagues strongly against this, as a better example of appalling behaviour would be difficult to find.
MSP Michael McMahon, for example, after receiving a most lenient punishment from the Presiding Officer, then ungraciously went to the media to challenge her decision.
The essence and substance of the problem is that the SNP has had the temerity to challenge Labour’s divine right to rule, although the behaviour of the Tories also leaves a lot to be desired. It took three centuries of struggle to get our parliament back. Petty jealousies and aggravations should not be allowed to wreck it.
When the Scottish Parliament was created, the boast was that it would be different from Westminster. You can say that again.
Creating a group of MSPs does not, it would seem – on the evidence of the suspension of Michael McMahon –create a group of parliamentarians.
I was astonished to learn at 8am on Thursday via the media that the Presiding Officer was to suspend Mr McMahon later that day; something confirmed by her at 11:40am in the parliament chamber.
I was astonished on three grounds.
First, that such an announcement should have been made first to the media and not to the parliament.
Second, having heard the Wednesday broadcast of events – Mr McMahon’s insult to the chair, the Presiding Officer’s insistence on his withdrawal of it, her clear acceptance that he had apologised – only to read her reasoning at 11.40am next day that she, unlike the nation, had not clearly heard him.
Third, that not one MSP challenged the practice of announcing the withdrawal of rights of a member via the media, or challenge the doubtful basis on which a member was suspended. It could not have happened thus at Westminster.
The Presiding Officer’s statement relied upon chapter 7 of the standing orders – conduct of meetings; 7.3 paragraph 1 requires MSPs to conduct themselves “in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Presiding Officer”.
However, failure to comply with those terms does not provide the Presiding Officer with power to suspend an MSP for a day. That lies in 7.3 para 3(a), which refers to a breach of the preceding 7.3 para 2: “Members shall at all times conduct themselves in an orderly manner and, in particular, shall not conduct themselves in a manner which would constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court.”
As Mr McMahon was not accused of criminal conduct or contempt of court, that leaves only the “orderly manner” prescription; yet there is no evidence of a disorderly manner on his part, especially as he quickly apologised when asked to do so.
Where, then, lies the basis for a suspension when the member concerned makes a remark offensive to the chair but, on her insistence, immediately apologies?
I doubt if any Westminster parliamentarian would accept such a ruling without challenge to the chair in that place.
I appreciate, especially in the hate-filled atmosphere in Holyrood at present, the Presiding Officer has a difficult task, but it detracts, not adds, to the parliament’s reputation for her to err, as she has done on an issue of members’ rights of attendance, without a challenge by members irrespective of their party affiliation.
On Thursday I was a member of the Ayr Tory Association visiting Holyrood to hear First Minister’s Questions. At times the bawling and shouting was so loud that nobody, least of all the MSPs, could hear what Alex Salmond was trying to say in defence of his mistakes regarding incorrect funding figures. However, later on in the “debate” I heard that the First Minister had changed the official record of early proceedings without consulting the MSPs. This was in connection with a vastly inflated figure given regarding the amount of green jobs – only a mistake of 7,000 – that would be created due to renewables.
How can anyone change the Minute of Proceedings without telling parliament? I have taken minutes of various boards and councils and no way can the minute be changed without the full consent of those present.
The public gallery was packed on this day with more young people than adults. I wonder what they thought of their parliament and how this would influence their future voting.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 12 C to 21 C
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Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
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