SNP flexes its muscle with Holyrood committee roles

THE SNP today named MSPs to chair most of the Scottish Parliament's powerful backbench committees.

The party's overall majority means it can choose conveners for nine of Holyrood's 14 committees, with Labour getting four and the Tories one.

Midlothian South SNP MSP Christine Grahame, a lawyer who has campaigned for an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing, is to be convener of the justice committee after chairing the health and sport committee in the last parliament.

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Other key SNP appointments include Kenny Gibson as finance convener; Stewart Maxwell to chair education and culture; Joe Fitzpatrick in local government and regeneration; Rob Gibson at rural affairs, climate change and the environment; Maureen Watt in infrastructure and capital investment; Dave Thompson at standards procedures and public appointments; Christina McKelvie for Europe and external relations and Nigel Don as subordinate legislation.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Northern & Leith MSP Malcolm Chisholm has resigned as Labour's education spokesman just days after being appointed following party leader Iain Gray's refusal to nominate him as health committee convener.

Mr Chisholm, a former health minister, said he had taken the education job because he did not expect Labour to be given the health convener's role.

He said: "I think I am well qualified by my experience for that position but Iain Gray decided otherwise.

"I believe that such appointments should not be in the gift of the party leader but should be voted on by the parliament as at Westminster."

Mr Gray appointed Ken Macintosh as education spokesman in his place and gave Patricia Ferguson the culture portfolio.

A Labour spokesman said: "Iain Gray asked Malcolm Chisholm to use his experience and ability in the shadow cabinet and he had agreed to do so. He has since reconsidered and changed his mind."

Duncan McNeil was expected to be Labour's choice for health convener.

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In 1997, Mr Chisholm became the first minister to resign from Tony Blair's cabinet when he quit over cuts to single parent benefits.

In 2006, he was forced to resign from Jack McConnell's frontbench team after voting with the SNP against Trident.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald backed Mr Chisholm's call for conveners to be elected by MSPs rather than the party leadership. She said she believed there was no-one better for the health convener's job than Mr Chisholm.

She said: "This has highlighted the fault in the system where parties have taken over the power of the parliament."