A programme for government and a policeman in the hot seat

As we head into the St Andrew’s day weekend, change is very much in the air. The Parliament agreed to Nicola Sturgeon’s new ministerial team on Tuesday 25th and the consequential changes to committee membership have begun. There will be further changes once Labour’s leadership election is concluded: January will see an unusually fresh start to parliamentary business. The biggest harbinger of change is of course Lord Smith’s report, published today.

On Wednesday 26th, Nicola Sturgeon laid out her programme for government. The debate on her proposals ran over two afternoons and afforded opportunity for robust debate on every issue in the programme and several that are not. Neil Findlay raised a point of order about the lack of mention of a lobbying bill. (There’s more on the issue in the debate that was led by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee on 6 November.) Land reform looks like a topic that will ignite interest across the spectrum; Alison Johnstone welcomed it while Murdo Fraser was unconvinced. Malcolm Chisholm’s speech was wide-ranging and thoughtful. John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, wound up the debate. His closing words outline the SNP’s view of the Smith commission report.

In other business this week Chief Constable Stephen House was thoroughly grilled by the Justice Committee on the 2015-16 budget. Newly-promoted Michael Matheson followed Sir Stephen and appeared as Cabinet Secretary for Justice designate, taking on the new brief at very short notice. The convener, Christine Grahame, was philosophical about not being promoted herself.

The Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee led the stage 1 debate on the Legal Writings (Counterparts and Delivery) (Scotland) Bill. It is the first bill to be dealt with under the new Scottish Law Commission bill procedure, which was designed to speed up law reform in Scotland. The bill is widely supported and the speakers concurred with the committee’s conclusions. Mike MacKenzie, however, departed from the subject of the bill and addressed instead the merits of the committee in a paean to its work. Anyone who wonders about the purpose of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee does could do worse than read his speech.

Happy St Andrew’s day.