In the recent history of Scottish Labour, there’s been a distinct scarcity of being first at anything, but following the Snow 1, Scottish Conservatives 0 scoreline of last weekend, it is at the Caird Hall in Dundee that the first party conference of the season kicks-off this morning.
And kick-off it has already with a row over the party’s position on membership of the single market creating an immediate stand-off between the Scottish Executive Committee and a decent proportion of elected members and delegates.
The launch of the Scottish Labour for the Single Market campaign group earlier in the week gave a hint at the row to come. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise that several CLPs submitted motions calling for the UK to stay in the single market and customs union. Things escalated last night when the leadership decided to head off that vote by deciding to introduce a much blander “unity motion”. This SEC-backed wording has not yet been tabled (sparking a Point of Order within minutes of the commencement of proceedings) but is expected to highlight the need to protect jobs, to seek the return of devolved powers from Brussels and support membership of a customs union with the EU. The plenary debate, scheduled for Sunday morning, will no doubt be heated and an indication of the lines and positioning may reveal themselves at Fringe meetings on the topic over the weekend.
The resignation of Mark McDonald from the SNP, following many months’ absence from Holyrood and an investigation into inappropriate conduct, has sparked discussion on whether the Parliament should have the power of recall over MSPs. The lack of any such facility was also highlighted in 2013 (by Alex Salmond) when dealing with the conviction of Bill Walker for domestic abuse offences.
Elsewhere, the inter-governmental row on the return of European powers continues with no agreement yet reached between the Scottish, Welsh and UK governments. Following yesterday’s Joint Ministerial Committee, the issues of difference appear to be in relation to agricultural support, environmental quality, fisheries management, food labelling, emissions trading, qualifications recognition and public procurement. Mike Russell has further criticised the UK Government for preparing a list of new powers that had not been shared with the Scottish and Welsh governments, while offering to ensure the devolved administrations did not “unreasonably withhold consent” if an agreement was reached.
The Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill is being considered under fast-track measures for emergency legislation, requiring Stage 2 amendments to be lodged by 2pm today. Claudia Beamish, Colin Smyth, Tavish Scott, Mark Ruskell, Neil Findlay and James Kelly have submitted.
As we enjoy a bit of sunshine today to top-up our dwindling levels of vitamin D, it’s worth also giving some column inches to a less-well-reported story today. Scotland’s suicide rate is still too high, particularly among men and today the charity at the forefront of the issue, Samaritans Scotland, has criticised the Scottish Government’s new draft suicide prevention plan. The plan, which is currently open for consultation, replaces the previous strategy which expired in 2016. Samaritans Scotland Chief Executive, James Jopling, said: “Our hopes were to see meaningful and better resourced commitments to address suicide, both among the general public and those we know have a much higher risk. We are very disappointed at the limits of what has been published…Were these the only actions to be contained within a final plan we fear it will not have the impact we hoped for on further reducing suicide in Scotland.”