Monday, 24 March 2008

Scotland Office - cheeky minx

Whose a naughty boy then? That there Scotland Office (what a daft name for a government department) has almost created some interest in the Scottish Parliament Independence Commission.

That was the Commission which was ordered by a vote in Parliament in December -

That the Parliament, recognising mainstream public opinion in Scotland, supports the establishment of an independently chaired commission to review devolution in Scotland; encourages UK Parliamentarians and parties to support this commission also and proposes that the remit of this commission should be:
"To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom",
and further instructs the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to allocate appropriate resources and funding for this review.

You see how that's a Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) deal? How this Commission (which will recommend Independence, of course) belongs to the SPCB, not to any political party nor to any government department? That's quite important.

The Scotland Office, you see, issued a call notice for a news conference in Parliament:

Sent: 24 March 2008

Subject: Op Note: Scottish Parliament Review - 11.30am, Tuesday 25March, 11.30am
Grateful for inclusion in diaries etc.
Operational Note
An announcement on the progress of the Scottish Parliament Review will be made at a press conference on Tuesday, March 25 at 11.30am in the Press Briefing Room at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. It will be attended by the party leaders involved in the Review.

The independent body, which has the support of both the UK Government and Scottish Parliament, will examine devolution's role in Scotland's future.

A press release and further details will be issued at the press briefing.

The briefing will be on-camera and on the record. Interview opportunities will be available post-conference.

You are invited to send a reporter/ crew/ photographer.

Issued on behalf of the Scottish Parliament Review by The Scotland Office

Why would the Scotland Office be involved in this news conference? Surely it's the SPCB who would progress this issue and it would be the Presiding Officer's responsibility to call the news conference - the Scotland Office has no locus.The SPCB has considered the issue in principle - at its December meeting where the Chief Executive reported:
Constitutional change
5. The Chief Executive advised that he had spoken with Party Leaders and Business Managers and would report further to the Corporate Body in the new year.
Wonder if he spoke to Salmond? There is no report back noted in the minutes of the SPCB since the New Year, so it's obviously still pending.

Another issue is this -
11. The SPCB agreed that it was not appropriate for Members to ‘sponsor’ third parties to hold press conferences on the Parliament’s premises. Only press conferences being held by Members in pursuit of their parliamentary duties could be held in the Parliament.
That's from the SPCB's February minutes, indicating that the Scotland Office isn't allowed to call a news conference in the Scottish Parliament - even if it's sponsored by an MSP (the room for this has been booked by the Libdem's Head of Press).

So now there's the question - will the Presiding Officer have the courage to rule this out of order and tell them that this news conference cannot go ahead? This is what he should do - make sure that the scarce resources of the Scottish Parliament are used appropriately. Additionally, he should ensure that the Commission demanded by the Scottish Parliament vote should go ahead - and if Labour wants a different commission then Labour can pay for it.

While we're on the subject, though, let's have a sweepie about the chair of the Independence Commission (who should also be chosen by the SPCB) - will it be a very distinguished and very well-respected legal figure or will it be a crusty and hidebound former mandarin who has already written a report that was helpful to Labour?

Sam Galbraith thinks it should be Henry McLeish.


Anonymous said...

On a completely different subject Calum, am I right in understanding that the Lord President and Lord Justice Clerk will, after Mr Stawman's reforms, be the only judges left who are appointed by the UK Prime Minister?

By the way, what about a Scottish civil service?


Calum Cashley said...

Well, thanks to section 95 of the Scotland Act 1998 (which formalised this strange arrangement), only a nomination by the First Minister can be put forward by the Prime Minister for consideration by the queen for appointment to either of these posts (I think) - which sounds like a Gilbert and Sullivan number.

Other Scottish judges (with the exception of the Jolly Judge) are appointed by the Scottish Government I believe (through HM, of course).

I take it from your question that no English judges will be appointed by the PM? Not something I know about - I would have to consult m'learned friend between his bouts with the HoL over his fees.

I suppose an equally urgent question would be whether Scotland will be left with a proper College of Justice if the UK Supreme Court comes into being. Perhaps we should repatriate civil cases as a precaution?

Interesting provisions in the, admittedly unlikely, event that both of these judges are held to be incompetent arising from the Senior Judiciary (Vacancies and Incapacity)Act 2006 - Scotland's senior judges might not be appointed by the PM.

Scottish Civil Service is, of course, here, just establishing its elbow room before it declares itself as a Scottish Ciil Service rather than a branch of the Home Civil Service.

Can't rush these things, you know!