Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Cracking Holyrood Chat - Mike Russell

The SNP have taken a right battering on these pages, and quite rightly so given the poor standard in some of the motions.

But, I did say that this blog wouldn't solely focus on crap Holyrood chat but would, from time to time, showcase the cracking Holyrood chat that does come about.

Take a bow - Mike Russell (SNP)

Is there any other MSP who could pluck the phrase "self-serving, head-of-a-pin, pettifogging" out of the air?

The Minister for Environment (Michael Russell): I find myself in some difficulty, because the opening sentences of my speaking notes say:

"This has been a very valuable and useful debate. I welcome the contributions and views that have been expressed".

I publicly dissociate myself from that opinion. This has not been a "valuable and useful debate." It is of some significance that not one member has declared an interest—because there has been no interest in the debate. Outside the chamber, there will be no interest in the debate. By insisting on holding this debate, Robert Brown has succeeded in wasting everybody's time. Labour members have been very cute—they knew that first of all.

Robert Brown rose—

Michael Russell: No, Mr Brown, do not waste any more of my time. My keynote for this summing-up speech is just to get through it.

At the start of the debate, only three out of 16 Lib Dem members were present. They were not going to have Mr Brown wasting their time. Mr Chisholm did worse—only six out of 41 Labour members were in the chamber for the start of the debate. Even Mr Fraser managed just three out of 16. Those absent members knew that this afternoon's debate was pointless. It was a pointless occasion, and it was one of those occasions that do the Parliament no good whatever. Let us be ruthlessly honest about it: this was political theatre for those who are paid to be here. The debate had no other meaning.

David Whitton: Will the minister give way?

Michael Russell: No, I will not give way. My intention is just to get through this. I just want to get through it and go home. Just understand that, all right? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order.

Mr McAveety: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Is it appropriate for a minister, in responding to a debate, to say that he is here only "to get through it"?

Michael Russell: Yup.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That is for the chamber to judge.

Michael Russell: It is appropriate for ministers to tell the truth, which is what I intend to do.
Let us consider the record of Labour in opposition when it matters and the issues that it has brought to the Parliament. In the past year, Labour has had 19 debates and of those—this is a fact and facts are chiels that winna ding—only five contained a policy proposal and one of them was on the Calman commission, which does not count as a policy in any way. That leaves four policy proposals, of which only two were new ideas. Labour in opposition is not moving Scotland forward, it is moving itself backward. There was nothing new in the five Lib Dem debates either—not one new policy was proposed. Even the Tories have a better record than that.
This afternoon, we have heard several dismal speeches that were designed only to carp. I accept that many of them were fairly entertaining, but I want to single out one that was not. I can describe Johann Lamont's speech only as a sour and bitter attack full of smears and false innuendo all shrouded in a cloak of false indignation about parliamentary accountability. What annoys Johann Lamont and so many other Labour members is not that we have failed to be accountable but that the people of Scotland like what we are doing.
I understand the frustration that somebody who has spent their career saying that something cannot be done will feel when they discover not only that it is being done but that it is being done well, but my advice to Johann Lamont and to other Labour members is to get over it and start contributing to the debate. That has been the constant theme of the debate. There can be no criticism of things that are not happening—that is not possible.

Johann Lamont: Will the minister give way?

Michael Russell: No, I will not.

The criticism is of what has been happening—the successes that are taking place and the intention to continue to make things happen. Let me be absolutely clear on the issue of smaller class sizes. I am happy to do so, as it is a policy with which I am proud to be associated.

Bill Butler (Glasgow Anniesland) (Lab): Will the minister give way on that point?

Michael Russell: Smaller class sizes are vital to Scotland. We have argued for them constantly. The concordat with local government creates the framework for their operation.

Bill Butler: Will the minister give way?

Murdo Fraser: Will the minister give way?

Michael Russell: No, Mr Fraser.
Councils and the Government are working hard to achieve that.

Bill Butler rose—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. Mr Butler, sit down.

Michael Russell: No amount of self-serving, head-of-a-pin, pettifogging opposition will stop smaller class sizes in Scotland. That is my message to Jeremy Purvis.

Bill Butler rose—

Murdo Fraser rose—

Michael Russell: No, I will not give way—I am sorry. I want to finish and I am going to finish.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Order. The minister has made it clear that he will not give way.

Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I understand that the standing orders require members to treat one another with courtesy. To launch a personal attack on a member and then refuse an intervention from that member is surely the height of discourtesy.

The Presiding Officer: It is entirely up to the speaker whether they take an intervention. I have only just come into the chair, so I am not aware of any earlier exchanges.

Michael Russell: Presiding Officer—

Margo MacDonald: Will the minister give way?

Michael Russell: No, I am sorry.

The Presiding Officer: Order. The minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Michael Russell: Believe me, Presiding Officer, I am showing all the courtesy that I can summon at this stage in the debate.
Some of the criticism has involved accusing the Government of being populist, but the real objection is that we are popular, not populist. The Government's mission is to meet and match the rising ambitions of the people of Scotland and to improve their daily lives. That is a popular ambition and one that we will fulfil. Moreover, people know it. Research that was carried out between May and November showed that trust in the Scottish Government had increased by 20 percentage points in a year, from 51 per cent to 71 per cent, which is twice the level of public trust that is placed in the Westminster Government.
We have laid out a range of proposals and activities that we will bring forward. The First Minister will set out the full details of our legislative programme in September. As he did two weeks ago, he will mark a visionary course for Scotland—one that is full of detail, that will continue to drive Scotland forward and that will appeal to the Scottish people. The only critics of it will be those who do not understand the thirst and ambition of the Scottish people for change.



James said...

This was a bravura performance. I applaud his honesty (bear in mind the debate in question was a result of the SNP being required by Parliament to hold a debate on their programme), and this clip was required viewing in our office.

Matt Wardman said...

I'm sure I've missed something, but what was it about?

Matt Wardman

(Came via Mr E)

Dave Cole said...

Blimey... that's one that's going to end up in the history books under 'Speeches, Rude'.

The debate was called 'Moving Scotland Forward' and was introduced by Nicola Sturgeon. You can read the full text of the debate at

Anonymous said...

Also via Mr E.

What's a chiel?

purplepangolin said...

Courtesy of

The lines ‘But facts are chiels that winna ding,/An downa be disputed’ appear in Burns’ poem A Dream from 1786. The English translation is ‘But facts are fellows that will not be overturned,/And cannot be disputed’.

subrosa said...

A chiel's a bell.