Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Presiding Officer dilemma for SNP

Interesting to read the hints in both the Scotsman and Herald this morning that the SNP majority in Holyrood may coalesce behind "one of their own" (either Tricia Marwick or Christine Grahame) in the vote to select the new Presiding Officer tomorrow. If true, there are fairly obvious pros and cons...

Pros -

1. It would remove the danger that a Presiding Officer from the opposition ranks would do what John McTernan suggested, and pull a fast one by ruling an independence referendum bill out of order.

2. It would infuriate Tavish. In fact, it sounds like the mere possibility of it is already infuriating Tavish.

Cons -

1. It might look a bit tribal given that this is generally regarded as being Labour's 'turn'.

2. It would reduce the SNP's absolute parliamentary majority from a potential ten to eight. Of course, that's still a position that would have been beyond our wildest ravings a week ago, but who knows when an extra vote might come in handy? It's worth remembering that the SNP are now more vulnerable to having to face Holyrood by-elections than the other parties due to holding 53 of the 73 constituency seats. I gather that they also used up their full complement of candidates in Central Scotland, so if any of the list seats fell vacant in that region they couldn't be replaced. Of course it's still highly unlikely that such a solid majority would be significantly reduced over the course of the parliamentary term, let alone wiped out, but with five long years ahead you just never know.

Or to put it another way, you'd need to have a crystal ball to know what the most rational thing to do is!

UPDATE : I see that Labour's Hugh Henry has explicitly made clear that he would not use his powers as Presiding Officer to block a referendum bill, and indeed has added that he thinks opposition members should stop "carping on" about the validity of such a bill. So I'd suggest that removes the main argument against the SNP installing a Labour Presiding Officer.

* * *

What an absolute tragedy about David Cairns. I dare say I've criticised him on this blog at some point, but he came across as a genuinely lovely guy. He also has the important legacy of overturning the ban on Catholic priests becoming MPs - in some ways an even more pernicious piece of discrimination than the one on Catholics being able to accede to the throne.


  1. In my opinion it would be wrong for the SNP to have the chair as well as a majority.

    It is Labour’s turn but I suppose they may feel that, with their diminished numbers, many new inexperienced list members who didn’t expect to be elected and don’t really want to be MSPs, a leader to find , and an internal investigation to run, that they have anyone suitable.

    The Liberals should think carefully before proposing Tavish. They only have 5 members as it is. If they lose one, they would find themselves (I think) in a minor party position.

    The Tories may have someone suitable. As I understand it Mr Ferguson has made it clear he doesn’t want to continue in the role. Annabel Goldie would be a possibility, but she has said that she will not stand down till the end of the year.

    I wonder if Margo has thought about standing!

    I agree with you about David Cairns. I’ve criticised his politics often enough, but he was the first of the ministers to resign in the Brown years and his resignation undoubtedly encouraged others to do the same. He was clearly a man of some principles. No one deserves to die at 44 and it must be a terrible time for his partner and family.

  2. It's a tough one to call but seeing what Labour are like in opposition then I hope no one from their ranks is elected. They don't deserve to hold such a position.

    My preference would be Tavish Scot although as Tris has pointed out, this would bring the Libs down to a tiny rump of 4.

    James I see your point regarding the SNPs majority dropping from 10 to 8 but we would still by in large the support of the Greens on most issues (I think) and Margo.

    I'm not even thinking about anyone from the Tory party, their last candidate was dreadful and big Bella would just play up to the theatre.

    So Tavish or Christine Grahame for me. It would be funny seeing Christine Grahame slap Iain Gray down with his long and tedious stupid questions and she would be the one to sort the lack luster buffoon out.

  3. Agree, Hugh Henry's statement on the independence referendum means he's an acceptable choice.

    Christine Grahame would be entertaining if a little maverick.

    Tricia Marwick would be disastrous since she consistently opposed an open and accessible parliament when on the SPCB.

    Tavish (or any Lib Dem) won't go for it because it would reduce the Lib Dem group below 5, thus denying them a seat on Parliamentary Bureau and SPCB (and denying them the automatic right to a Q at FMQs).

  4. Hugh Henry is out for me.

    He made an outrageously partisan speech at the Politician of the Year Awards, precisely the kind of platform where it is not appropriate.

    If he is capable of that then he is clearly not fit to be an impartial PO.

  5. When did it become not OK for the government side to hold the post of Presiding Officer?

    In the first parliament, the LibLab coalition made sure they controlled the post by installing David Steel. Steel then took the government side in the most contentious debate of that session - the Holyrood Building project.

    Labour had the opportunity to take the Presiding Officer role in the last parliament, but were so tribal in their approach that they couldn't bring themselves to lose a single anti-SNP vote.

    I don't mind losers mourning their loss, but please don't wrap it up in spurious principles like 'it's buggins turn for Labour' or 'no government stooge for Presiding Officer'.

    If you want to see where buggins turn gets you, just look at Labour's successful list candidates!!!