Merry Christmas

We’re almost at the end of the term. There are Christmas trees dotted about, mince pies at the coffee bar and carols in the garden lobby. The sense that the year is closing is at odds with continuing political change: this week, we have a new Labour leader, whose even newer front-bench team will ring the changes in the chamber until he can join them there. That means that Kezia Dugdale, deputy Labour leader, will end her parliamentary year by debuting at First Minister’s question time.

Neil Findlay, who didn’t get the leadership but did get the fair work, skills and training brief, has leaped straight into action, moving an amendment in this afternoon’s debate on developing Scotland’s young workforce.

Yesterday, the Parliament agreed to the general principles of the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill, bringing us a step closer to having a statutory basis for welfare funds – which seems a suitably seasonal vote.

Also yesterday, the Education and Culture Committee had its first evidence session on the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill. The meeting was interpreted by signers, and you cansee the sub-titled video of the meeting on the Parliament’s YouTube channel.

Those who were interested in the Justice Committee’s session last week on the draft Public Services Reform (Inspection and Monitoring of Prisons) (Scotland) Order 2014 will want to know that the committee took further evidence this week, this time from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson. The committee divided on the question whether to recommend approval of the order, with Margaret Mitchell of the Conservative Party voting against.

The Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the Finance Committee were both concerned with new financial arrangements that might result from the Smith commission and further devolution. The Devolution committee heard from academics, while the Finance Committee heard from a lawyer and tax specialists, and both sets of witnesses were anxious about how arrangements would work in practice and what effect UK actions on tax could have on Scotland. One little-known tax was discussed: the annual tax on enveloped dwellings, or ATED. If you’re not a tax lawyer, you heard it here first!

The European and External Relations Committee took more evidence on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – TTIP – from businessmen. Every witness was a man and, although the committee is convened by Christina McKelvie, the rest of its members are men, so in this particular meeting she was the only woman at the table. It’s not unusual for committees to have only one woman member. Only 35 per cent of members are women, so there aren’t enough to go round to make committee membership more equal. As I looked over the meeting I thought of the speeches made during Nicola Sturgeon’s nomination for First Minister, when there was much talk of our having a woman Presiding Officer, a woman First Minister and women Opposition leaders. I hope that those leadership roles will translate into more women members, too.

Everyone is a bit demob happy, which means more jokes than usual; today’s prize goes to Neil Findlay for his remark on Fergus Ewing and the oil industry. I wonder whether “Dallas” will ever be allowed to fade from cultural memory.

With best wishes for Christmas and the new year.