The Scottish Parliament’s ‘First Minister’s Questions (FMQs)’, modelled on the UK Parliament’s ‘Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)’, sees the First Minister take questions in the chamber each week. Yet there’s a very significant difference which goes to the heart of what the parliament’s supposed to be all about.

PMQs lasts half an hour. Members put in a note to ‘The Table Office’ requesting to be called and there’s a lottery organised by the House staff. The speaker calls the top 20 members or so, sometimes more, to ask their question. The Speaker might also call a specific member if something huge is happening in their constituency. In addition, the leader of the opposition gets 5 questions and the leader of the biggest other group usually gets 2. Those ‘front benchers’ jump in when they want to, but ‘back-bench’ MPs always dominate the time available. Their questions reflect those of their constituents – in this way everyone can be represented directly and publicly at the highest level: it isn’t simply about parties taking a pop at each other. Moreover, if the speaker thinks the prime minister, or any questioner, is veering away from the proper business then s/he’ll immediately pull them up. Obviously, veering off topic is a device politicians use to try to evade proper debate and public scrutiny.

FMQs lasts 45 minutes. There’s a lottery for back-benchers in the same way, but party leaders get to go first. Sometimes, they go on at such length that there’s hardly any time left for MSPs to raise real constituency issues. And, as we saw yesterday, it seems that the President – the equivalent of the UK parliament’s Speaker – has no interest at all in whether the party leaders are time wasting.  Remember, time-wasting is an abuse not only of parliament but also the public at large. When politicians do it they’re invariably trying to avoid something else the public is much more interested in.

Seven minutes of precious parliamentary time was spent at FMQs yesterday by the Scottish Labour leader challenging the First Minister over a single tweet someone with no government or SNP role sent 2 months ago. It was obviously an abuse of parliament and the public, but the president simply let it all go on. Amazingly, the Scottish Labour leader concluded by demanding that the government ‘shun’ a tweeter, Stuart Campbell. Seriously, ‘shun’. It was reminiscent of Alan Partridge instructing his audience (from 8.12) to boo his guests. It was pure farce.

There’s a general election going on; contentious issues in Education, Health and across the policy spectrum abound. It’s the job of the opposition to scrutinise and challenge the government on all the big policy issues of the day. MSPs are queuing up to raise important constituency issues they’ve had put to them by regular folk. Yet regardless of all of this, a single front-bencher was allowed to use a non-policy, non-government, non-parliamentary, non-SNP ‘Tweet’ as a means of ‘filibustering’. It was shocking. It treated the public with contempt and the president should have told the questioner to sit down and moved on to the next question. That’s a humiliating punishment the speaker at Westminster does not hesitate to use when someone tries it on in the same way there.

Filibustering is of course a term which usually refers to politicians using very specific rules on what may be said and for how long, in order to ‘talk out’ a bill. In this case, the ridiculous amount of FMQs time which was allowed to be spent on an issue unrelated to the job of the First minister amounted to a filibuster designed to stop anyone raising Labour’s suspension of the Aberdeen Council Labour Group. The president erred terribly not stopping it. MSPs should now use their undoubted powers act to change parliament’s rules; they should ensure that front-bench limelight hogging is consigned to the past, and that filibustering – as we saw yesterday – is put away for good.

Scotland’s parliament can be the big council chamber the unionists want it to be, or it can be a mature parliament where being an MSP representing regular folk actually means something. It really can’t be both.



24 Responses to MSPs must act to prevent a repeat of yesterday’s cynical and farcical ‘filibuster’
  1. Enjoyed this piece. It saddens me that the ideals expressed for the way the Scottish Parliament should operate have been greatly diminished. Kezia’s part in this on Thursday was obvious. Please say some more about how you think MSPs could reverse the power relationship.

    • In the end, MSPs have to decide who’s in charge of parliament. At Westminster, there’s literally no doubt it’s the MPs. The House staff are really super and the lack of ambiguity makes their task clear. Party leaders simply can’t take the piss at Westminster in the way we saw one do this week at Holyrood. My instinct is that although MSPs are theoretically in charge when it comes to the rules of procedure and their application, the house staff look the party leaders to a degree which simply doesn’t happen at Westminster.

      My own instinct is that the unionist/independence divide is too far at the moment for folk across that divide to work properly together. Perhaps meaningful change will come after independence? Perhaps that will provide a kind of sense of epoch which will put every member into a historical role, and that might well lead to more independence of mind in the parliament itself.

  2. FM could have closed it immediately. All she needed to say was “Yes. Just as I condemn all such tweets”

    But she didn’t.

    • I agree that she could have shut it down by giving a quick reply. She needed to avoid appearing to take the issue of homophobia lightly, of course. But I think her folk will be looking closely at how to handle this sort of thing better in future.

  3. I am baffled as to why that remark was judged to be homophobic. I thought it quite amusing- has no-one got a sense of humour any more or are they all too busy looking for something to be offended about?
    It is so frustrating that labour will not raise important matters,they are so obsessed by the constitution. Meanwhile the Tories are wrecking our country, heaping misery on the most vulnerable and acting in a dictatorial way over Brexit and Inyref2.
    Alarm bells should be ringing about the way people are being brainwashed about the SNP and so not realising how Scotland’s powers will be eroded if the Tories get into power.
    The fact that Labour would associate themselves with the Tories instead of the SNP is an insult to Labour voters,but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised since they either voted with the Tories or abstained when the welfare policies condemned by the UN as grave violations of human rights, were being proposed.

    • I don’t think it was homophobic at all in linguistic or grammatical terms. Others I know think there was a nod to old attitudes behind it. There’s room for both interpretations, I think. I don’t think Stu is homophobic of course, but there’s a chink in the Tweet through which anti-independence folk have tried to shove their blunt blades. They can’t wound much, because the whole thing is so arguable and, frankly, ridiculous. But their intention was to stir up old attitudes themselves – ‘all supporters of independence are nasty folk’ – in order to pull people’s eyes away from their own embarrassments; in that, they’ve been modestly successful. The price they’ve paid is that they look ridiculous, of course.

  4. Kezia is an incompetent numpty. However we are discussing her incompetent filibustering rather than being concerned that her incompetence is giving the Tories a chance of progressing in Scotland. The only reason we cannot discuss opposing the Tories as united front is the Scottish Labour Party would rather them than other progressives.
    I despair

  5. What will it take for Dugdale to actually resign?
    She was rejected at constituency level, has bad mouthed Corbyn, and presided over disaster after disaster, culminating in Labour being pushed into a humiliating 3rd place behind the Tories. Labour councillors are laughing in her face now. They know that she is not their ‘leader’.
    Is there no way that the party can organise a no confidence motion at executive level, and boot her out?
    Where’s Murray in all of this? Surely he should be spearheading Labour’s GE campaign Up Here?
    She is a self centred spoilt wean, as is her Blue equivalent, Davidson.
    Neither is very bright, which I suppose is one of the criteria to get the Branch Manager job. Nobody with anything about them would touch the job with a barge pole.
    Even on June 9th Dugdale and Davidson will still be there, whining their heads off, while contributing nothing to the governance of Scotland.
    Nice game played slow.
    I cannot understand why young voters would attach themselves to either the Red or Blue Tories anyway.
    Do they actually look up to Kezia and Ruth as role models?

    • I’d rather assumed Anas Sarwar was planning a coup for after the council elections. But that’s been delayed by the General Election – why would you want the poisoned chalice just before losing your only remaining MP?

      • The centre of gravity of the Scottish Labour Party is on the side of the present leadership. Anas Sarwar might find it tricky, though, if for no other reason than he is making good personal use of a local private school. In an environment where Labour is trying hard not to present as the Tories’ sidekick, this would be very hard to deal with. Interestingly, given that Labour’s most recent decline has been to the benefit of the Tories, and around a third of Labour supporters previously supported independence, this seems likely to leave closer to a half of Labour folk supporting independence. This would be likely to come into play in any succession battle.

  6. Kezia’s outburst yesterday was an indication of a politician looking at her own demise. Wings have been forensic in pointing out factual errors that many politicians make but lately Kezia has been doing more than her fair share. Her supporters are dwindling, she lost her opposition role and her voters are changing to SNP or, inexplicably, Tory. Kezia will not last long after the General Election when the Labour ambitious get the long knives out. Wasting precious time in parliament on irrelevant and frankly inaccurate rambling when she could have used the time to draw more support in her General Election campaign by acting like an opposition leader. Sad to see that Labour are close to extinction in Scotland and Kezia and her antics are entirely to blame. Her speech on the Rape Clause was brilliant, passionate engaging and well delivered. What has happened to her since?

    • A fundamental trickiness for Scottish Labour’s leadership is that they hate the Corbynites but have been forced to say they’d raise taxes even higher than Corbyn would. That’s symptomatic of the incoherence they’ve arrived at for now.

  7. Kezia is looking and sounding demented ( Will she give me a mention for that in the next FMQ ?)
    I agree totally re your comments on the Presiding officer’s handling of the sessions, and he was one of the few Labour MSP’s I had some respect for in the last session of the Scottish parliament. He was respectful and asked intelligent Q’s . He’ll need to up his game in this new role.

    • I think Ken McIntosh will be thinking long and hard about that. He comes across as a nice but ineffectual guy. Perhaps the MSPs will demand that things change a bit. Yesterday wasn’t a credit to anyone.

  8. Couldn’t agree more.

    It made for grim and frustrating viewing to be sure. Yesterday was an open goal for Ms Dugdale. If she wanted to deflect from council carnage all she need do was ask the FM if she agreed XYZ about the Tory manifesto. THE most toxic Tory manifesto in my lifetime. A pure gimme for Ms Dugdale, or indeed any politician worth their salt. Steer away from contentious issues which bring herself and the Labour party into disrepute and get hammered into the real enemy.

    I bloody despair sometimes at the calibre of politicians in opposition benches. Yesterday was the political equivalent of skying a ball half a foot from a goal line and hooking the goalie in full view of the ref t’boot.

    • Enlightening post as ever, as an ex Labour voter who has come round to supporting independence for Scotland myself, I find your blog and general sentiments most interesting Eric. Dugdale is just a “symptom” of the state of the Labour party as opposed to being a “cause”. She is however miles out of her depth and unsuited to the role she holds.

  9. Eric,

    I can’t understand the mindset of Kezia.
    Do you have any insight on this and how the process of Parliamentary engagement works within the Labour group at Holyrood.

    Do Kezia and co not appreciate that they have a duty of representation to their constituents?
    That they should be challenging the Government?

    And one more question.

    What does Kezia want? (I know that is a bit broad brush, but I watch, listen to her and actually find myself asking that question)

    • It seems as if Kezia is in some sort of Twitter bubble where all that crosses her event horizon is tittle-tattle and #SNPBad. She simply isn’t behaving like a grown-up politician functioning in the real world.

  10. Sorry to say it but it is obvious the present Presiding Officer is not only biased but not up to the job he is expected to do.

    Ken Macintosh, simply is not up to the job. He should have stuck to playing the sax and leading his band. Here is a very appropriate example:-

  11. It was a hell of a peculiar approach too.

    “This guy is suing me for defamation. He supports independence. I demand that the FM take my side and condemn the independence supporter. And please agree with me that I didn’t defame him, he really is a nasty piece of work.”

    Has she never heard of Streisand’s Law?

    The tweet was from two months ago. I read it when it was posted, spluttered with laughter, and said “they’ll get you for that, Stu.” The tweet was funny in an irreverent sort of way. It was positively the opposite from homophobic, in that it assumed that someone’s homosexuality could be used in a satirical context, as simply being a part of life. The butt of the joke was Oliver Mundell, not his father.

    It looks very much as if Kezia has ben keeping this up her sleeve to use as a diversionary tactic when she needed one. It’s an utterly irrelevant storm in a thimble. But isn’t it interesting that Kezia is being sued for badmouthing someone who was lampooning a Tory? (I liked it better when Labour politicians were getting in trouble for decking Tories.)

    It’s also slightly interesting that several media outlets have published the “offending” tweet in its entirety. Obviously not that offensive then?

  12. Fully agree

    Worryingly, it appears that none of the Scottish press seemed to think this behaviour was worthy of a mention. Completely ignored/buried

    • The Scottish media represent a tiny clique of folk based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, getting their stories off the internet, from each other and in tiny wee gatherings put on for the purpose of giving them daft wee stories. MSPs tend to be folk completely embedded in their constituencies (when they have them!). MSPs need to reverse the power-relationship – in Scotland, they’re in a position to.


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