Friday, 23 January 2009

Labour Junior Ministers - paid for nothing?

Down on the farm at Much-Grumbling-in-the-Bog Ricky Baker has gone 'pop'.

Why, you might ask, would Ricky, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, be so synthetically outraged? Well, he's terribly upset that Kenny MacAskill MSP, Scotland's Justice Secretary, is promoting Scotland's Year of Homecoming in Canada instead of attending a knife crime summit.

Skipping over Ricky's rant about a "Burn's Supper" (sic), Fergus Ewing MSP, Community Safety Minister, was at the summit - and his portfolio includes knife crime. He's the chap who should be at the summit - and he was.

Kenny MacAskill is speaking at (if I remember correctly) three Burns Suppers and giving a lecture while he's in Canada - he was telling me before he left about the organisations he's speaking to. I think they are; 1. St Andrews Society of Toronto; 2. Digby Board of Trade Dinner, Novia Scotia; and 3. Scots Society Annual Burns Supper, Halifax (can't remember where the lecture is).

So what Ricky was looking for was the Cabinet Secretary to cancel his promotion of Homecoming in order to attend a summit in place of the Minister who is responsible for the subject matter of the summit, presumably so he can then go back and tell that Minister what went on so the Minister can take action on it.

It got me thinking - Labour doesn't realise how the Scottish Government works, Labour MSPs think that it's only the Cabinet Secretaries who take decisions. What on earth do they think the Ministers do? That quite clearly leads to the consideration of Labour's eight years at the helm - were their Junior Ministers not allowed to take decisions? If they weren't, what on earth were we paying them a Ministerial salary for? Were they dipping into the public purse and offering nothing in return? Did Labour's senior members not trust their junior colleagues? Is this part of the reason why SNP Government is so much more effective - because all the members of the Scottish Government now have a job to do, not just an office to fill?

So many questions and for once I'm like a Labour member - nae answers.

The great pity is that this important issue and the excellent idea of a summit - ironically, organised by Labour MSP Frank McAveety in his role as Convenor of Parliament's Petitions Committee - was overshadowed by a petty party politics row with no substance to it. I do hope that, at some point soon, Labour's Shadows will take Jack McConnell's advice and up their game.


Anonymous said...

New Labour is a centralising Party, as shown by ring-fencing of Local Authority funds,ID Cards, mega-hospitals at the expense of local services and in England Brown making ALL the policy statements (I often wonder if certain Cabinet Ministers there seethe when he steals their thunder).

In Scotland therefore Labour expects the SNP Government to be like them and can't undertand when it's not. Still in denial of the 2007 election result.

Stuart Winton said...

I suppose it depends on how important the issue is considered as regards whether a junior minister is deemed suitable to handle it.

Clearly that's Mr MacAskill's prerogative, but politically it doesn't seem to have played too well, since the media and commentators seem to have viewed the matter differently - I suspect the public might view the issue similarly.

Calum Cashley said...

No, Stuart, the most appropriate Minister to attend is the Minister who is responsible, how that plays in the press is a moot point. If the Government thought it wasn't important there would be no Minister in attendance.

This was a Parliament event, not a Government event, and the Government would show the respect due - that's why the Government would send the Minister who has responsibility for the area under debate.

In the nine years of devolution, the concern of the opposition has always been whether the most appropriate Minister is in attendance - until Labour MSPs thought they could grab a headline.

As John Muir pointed out, Fergus Ewing is the Minister responsible and the participants wanted Fergus there.