A number of press outlets have carried a story regarding a vote that took place at the Finance Committee last Wednesday. As reported, I did vote against an SNP amendment to our Committee’s budget report that would have explicitly supported the budget; however, I also voted against an opposition amendment that would have explicitly condemned the budget, a fact that seems to have somehow been missed out by the media.
The Committee system, in common with the Parliament’s original ethos, was designed to engender consensus and to encourage co-operation among MSPs regardless of their party affiliation. Holyrood’s Committees are also intended (perhaps optimistically) to be the yin to the Chamber’s yang, allowing thoughtful debate free from the partisan point-scoring that can, on occasion, take place in the Chamber.
The Budget Report, so ably distilled into a concise document by the Committee’s staff from the hours of expert evidence taken by the Committee on the impact of the Government’s proposed Budget, is a fair and balanced analysis of the Budget. It recognises that there are a range of opinions on the strength of the Budget, praising it where it deserves to be praised and offering constructive suggestions for change or further thought where the Committee considered that would be useful.
It’s a report that I am proud to put my name to, and that I was determined to keep clear from any amendments which would seek to change the spirit of the Report for pointless political point-scoring without any empirical evidence to back them. Michael McMahon, whose scrutiny has been an asset to the Committee, unfortunately put forward an amendment seeking outright criticism, an amendment that could not be backed by any interpretation of the evidence. To counter this, John Mason, who has been an able and thorough Deputy Convener of the Committee, put forward an amendment offering outright praise, which would also not have been fair given the evidence taken by the Committee.
In both instances, I voted to retain the original Report. Had the Report been altered by either amendment, it would have been difficult for the whole Committee to agree to support the Report, which would have been incredibly damaging and only added to the partisan cloud hanging over Holyrood these days. I’m delighted that the original report was wholeheartedly endorsed by the Committee, and hope that this consensus can be built on in the New Year.