Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grown up politics all round as Salmond delays the Anti-Sectarianism Bill #sp4

I am heartened today that it's clear that the SNP bulldozer can choose to bring itself to a halt. It's a good thing that the First Minister has announced that the Sectarian Bill will not be rushed through in the next week after widespread criticism of such a quick timetable. Instead, the Government will extend the timetable to allow for greater scrutiny.

Alex Salmond could have ignored the wishes of football clubs, churches and lawyers, and the rest of the Parliament. After all, he has a parliamentary majority and can do what he likes.

I had started to write a post this morning, which I never got round to finishing, which basically asked how could Alex Salmond get himself out of the corner he'd painted himself into without losing face.

That needed the co-operation of the other parties in the Parliament.

You see, our political culture demands that if someone, most especially a Government minister, changes their mind, it's a sign of weakness and they must be attacked for U-turning. That certainly is what happens at Westminster, where the Labour Party have been sure to pounce on any change of heart by the coalition government.

What happened today was that the other parties in the Parliament gave Alex Salmond wiggle room, and heaped praise on him for his decision to delay the Bill. Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie and Willie Rennie all used variations of the words mature and sensible and thanks. Willie said:
When politicians change their mind we must welcome that consideration and reflection and not complain and criticism. Can I offer my thanks to the First Minister for listening on the Sectarian Bill?
When it came to the actual Stage 1 vote on the Bill, the SNP and Labour voted for it, the Tories and Greens abstained and the Liberal Democrats voted against. That was a lot less stark than it could have been.

Given Labour's illiberal track record in recent years - who can forget their shambolic justice policies developed by Richard Baker - I was surprised that they spoke out so strongly against the Bill.

I would have hoped that the Greens would have joined the Liberal Democrats in voting against the legislation in principle at this stage. I don't believe the case has been made to justify why it's needed, and whether in fact the Government has the powers it thinks it has on the internet. Instead they joined the Tories on the fence.

Now, before you say anything, I know that our parliamentary group has abstained on things, namely budgets, over the years. Abstention is a pet hate of mine. I kind of like to see people make their bloomin' mind up.

The liberal position is that there has to be a very good reason to interfere with freedom of expression and that the case had not been made for this Bill. There were too many doubts that it would limit things it really had no business limiting. It also seems to be a quick fix, totally contrary to the quest for long term solutions to problems that Willie Rennie is so keen on. Voting against is a natural conclusion for us at this stage. That's not to say that we won't listen to the arguments made, but we'll take some convincing. That is as it should be and what I expect of a liberal party.

Willie said after FMQ:

“It is good that the First Minister has listened. He should be commended for his change of mind.
“It shows that our strong Liberal voices count in this Parliament. “Scores of questions still remain over the Bill and we will work constructively with the Scottish Government to explore these issues.
“We believe that voluntary action and community measures need to be fully exhausted first before resorting to further law making. 

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