May 18, 2016 : Craig Wilson
Busy week ahead in HolyroodChanges afoot with new ministerial appointments looking likley
With the MSPs now sworn into office, here’s a quick update on this week’s Scottish Parliament business and some of the discussions happening behind the scenes.
Kicking off with Tuesday’s nominations for First Minister – for those of you who enjoy a bet, I doubt the outcome would have made you much of a return. Despite a tokenistic challenge from the Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie (he secured five votes from his own MSPs), Nicola Sturgeon was duly selected.
Before the result was officially known, Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that she intends to split the Finance Secretary role, held by John Swinney since 2007, into two distinct portfolios. The first will have responsibility for the budget and new powers being devolved (including taxation). The other will be more akin to the UK Government Business Secretary, with a focus on jobs, employability, productivity and economic growth.
we can be sure of a new face coming in to head on key areas of work for the third sector
Cabinet and Ministerial posts will start being filled on Wednesday afternoon. So far we know that Richard Lochhead will not return as Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural affairs, as he takes a step back to spend more time with his family. Alex Neil has also stepped down as Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, so we can be sure of a new face coming in to head on key areas of work for the third sector.
The Lib Dems have called on the Scottish Government to establish a dedicated portfolio for mental health. The subject has been a big issue for the party in recent years and we may see them focus on this in the session ahead – perhaps making demands of the government in return for support on other matters. New Lib Dem MSP, Alex Cole Hamilton, submitted a motion to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which is currently under way, and it is my understanding that this was a key feature of his local election campaign.
The controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (introduced in 2012) will likely be scrapped by opposition parties. The newly established Conservative opposition are pushing the plans – although Labour MSP, James Kelly, is looking at a Private Members’ Bill. The Lib Dems and Greens stood on manifesto commitments to abolish the Bill. However, Patrick Harvie’s position appears more nuanced and the Greens seem keen to pursue the matter through the Justice Committee, which may prevent an outright abolition.
On the subject of Green Party support, it looks likely that the Government’s commitment to the named person scheme will pass with their votes. However, in his first contribution in the new session, Patrick Harvie made clear that his party will focus heavily on open and participatory democracy, progressive taxation, land reform and action to tackle climate change – meaning the government may have to adopt a more radical stance on these issues.
Whilst the SNP will still have to reach consensus to pass legislation, it is worth noting that, following the election of Labour MSP, Ken Macintosh, to the politically neutral post of Presiding Officer, the SNP will only require a single vote to pass legislation.
In other news, former Cabinet Secretary, Michael Russell MSP has lodged two questions asking what the Scottish Government intends to do to reduce the burden of regulation on charities of a smaller size. We’ll keep an eye open for the response.
In terms of the UK Parliament, the Parliament returns from prorogation (word of the day) and the official State Opening – complete with Black Rod and the Queen’s Speech – will take place on Wednesday. The speech will likely have a focus on the much discussed British Bill of Rights and ‘anti-extremism’ measures.
All in all a busy week ahead! Hope to keep you up to date with any developments – including the appointment of the ministerial teams – soon.