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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 January, 2004, 10:53 GMT
A slippery week for Holyrood
By John Knox
BBC Scotland political correspondent

Edinburgh may have escaped the snow but it's been a chilly week at Holyrood.

Fishing boats at Eyemouth
The fishermen want more days at sea
And the pavements have not been the only slippery things in town.

Take fish for instance - at question time, the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader John Swinney was convinced the Scottish Executive was "renegotiating" the European fishing agreement reached last December.

And he wanted Jack McConnell to go to Brussels in person.

"What the first minister should do is do what I did on Monday and get off his backside and get over to Europe and argue for the fishing industry," he said.

But Mr McConnell insisted there was no re-negotiation. He did admit however that talks were taking place on "technicalities" which might improve access to the haddock fishing grounds for Scottish boats.

He said: "These negotiations are not helped by senior politicians from this chamber advocating the breaking of Scottish and European law."

And he challenged Mr Swinney to withdraw his support for skippers who are threatening to breach the regulations.

Students graduation
Scottish universities have called for more funds
"I will never withdraw my support for the Scottish fishing industry," replied Mr Swinney.

But if the fish were slippery, so was the issue of university tuition fees.

Tony Blair's five vote victory at Westminster has left the Scottish Executive with a quandary.

There are, of course, no up-front tuition fees in Scotland but might the endowment charge, payable after graduation, be increased, like top-up fees in England?

The Conservative leader David McLetchie asked Mr McConnell that question three times.

And three times he got this answer: "The graduate endowment will not be used to fund university tuition or research and there will be no other new fees introduced for that either."

Spending review

The careful words skated over the differences there are rumoured to be between Mr McConnell and his Liberal Democrat partners in the coalition over increasing the endowment fee. He wants to increase it, they do not.

All we know is that decisions on how the promised new resources for universities in Scotland will be paid for will be made in the spending review over the next six months.

On Thursday afternoon, MSPs approved the Scottish Executive's budget for the coming year at £24bn.

The budget for 2005/6 is more or less fixed at £25.6bn.

The Purple Haze Cafe
The arrests were made at the Purple Haze Cafe
The review therefore will be for the year 2006/7, the year when top-up fees come into effect in England.

Another slippery issue this week has been cannabis.

It has been downgraded from a class B prohibited drug to a class C.

The first minister told MSPs: "Reclassification is not the same as decriminalisation."

And he said the police in Scotland, unlike in England, will report anyone smoking cannabis to the procurator fiscal.

Three people have been reported for allegedly smoking the weed at Scotland's first cannabis cafe, the Purple Haze in Leith.

Everyone is now waiting to see if the procurator fiscal will press charges and really mark out Scotland as taking a stricter line on the drug than England.

While on the issue of UK law, it is worth mentioning a row we had this week over the new UK supreme court.

Court
A new supreme court would take over appeal duties from the Lords
It will replace the judicial committee of the House of Lords under the government's constitutional reforms.

The SNP have tabled a bill to abolish the right to appeal to the Supreme Court in civil cases.

They say we should "repatriate" Scots Law and set up a new final appeal procedure here in Scotland, just as there is for criminal cases.

The communities committee heard this week from behind the lines in the battle over anti-social behaviour.

Representatives from communities in Alexandria and Dundee said more police on the beat and more police powers were only half the answer.

Four teenagers from the Echo Project in Dumfries said it was not any part of the answer. They want more youth clubs.

Learning accounts

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace told the enterprise committee he intended to restart the individual learning account scheme in the summer.

The original scheme collapsed in July 2000 amid fears of fraud.

Under the new scheme, people earning less than £15,000 a year will be able to claim up to £200 for training courses.

We had two reports out this week from the committees.

The audit committee said there had been an "unacceptable" delay in introducing computer technology to doctors prescriptions.

And the procedures committee decided to keep first minister's question time at 1200 GMT on Thursdays.

The report said it suited school parties better than the original time of 1430 GMT. It also, incidentally, suited the first minister better.

And MSPs did not seem to mind that TV viewing figures had fallen from 46,000 to 18,000.

Finally, we had two groups of demonstrators this week.

Despots not welcome here
The Scottish Socialist Party
Parents of handicapped children stood out in the cold to protest at the new Additional Support for Learning Bill.

They fear it will water down their children's rights to help with their education.

But Education Minister Peter Peacock assured MSPs that would not be the case and the bill was given approval.

The second demonstration came from the Socialists.

They stood silently in the chamber and held up posters declaring "Despots not welcome here".

They were objecting the presence in the VIP gallery of Prince Turki Al Faisal, the Saudi Arabian ambassador.

Socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie wanted a debate immediately.

She described Saudi Arabia as "a totalitarian regime".

It detained women for riding in taxis with unrelated men and for appearing in public with their heads uncovered. It beheaded people for adultery.

But, under the rules, the debate was not allowed by the Presiding Officer George Reid.

He said: "His Excellency is in Scotland to see our democratic structures in view of his own country's forthcoming elections. In particular he's here to monitor the participation of women."

The prince himself sat huddled in his great-coat.

He said at the end of his three-day visit to Scotland: "The cold was more than compensated for by the warm welcome."


SEE ALSO:
Support for McConnell time slot
30 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Plan for supreme court attacked
29 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Three arrested at cannabis café
29 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Fees vote 'cuts student choice'
28 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Talks on EU fish catches deal
28 Jan 04  |  Scotland
MSPs complain of daylight robbery
28 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Review of school violence figures
27 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Decrease in child offender cases
27 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Scots MPs attacked over fees vote
27 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Revamp for Burke and Hare law
28 Jan 04  |  Scotland


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