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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 November, 2004, 09:59 GMT
A week to remember at Holyrood
By John Knox
BBC Scotland political reporter

This week in Holyrood will be remembered for three things.

It was the week the Scottish Executive finally decided to introduce a ban on smoking in public places.

Smoking ban
Smokers will be forced outside pubs to light up
It was the week when Tommy Sheridan resigned as leader the Socialist Party.

And it was the week of Remembrance, with renewed debate about the Iraq war and the future of the Scottish regiments.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day, MSPs stood silent to remember those who died in the wars of last century and this century.

Four soldiers from the Scottish regiment the Black Watch have been killed in action in Iraq in the last two weeks.

By the 12th hour, the politicians were arguing over the deployment of the Black Watch in the so-called " triangle of death" south of Baghdad and the plans to merge the regiment with the other five Scottish regiments.

Plans to merge

"Now that there are Scottish soldiers in the firing line," asked the Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon at question time, "will the first minister urge the prime minister to start listening a lot more to the secretary general of the United Nations and a lot less to the president of the United States?"

First Minister Jack McConnell said no matter what people thought of the war, "right now would be the worst possible time for British troops to pull back and let the terrorists win".

Conservative leader David McLetchie said Mr McConnell should be supporting Scottish soldiers in the field by opposing the Amy's plans to merge the regiment when it gets home.

He appealed to him to "end the spin and counter-spin. Our troops don't have a clue where they stand".

We in this parliament have the chance to make the most significant step to improve Scotland's public health for a generation
Jack McConnell
The first minister surprised everyone by revealing he had phoned the prime minister on Tuesday, urging him to end the uncertainty over the future of the Black Watch.

Not long after that call, stories were coming out of Downing Street that the prime minister was going to intervene to save the Black Watch.

Tony Blair himself told the House of Commons on Wednesday that no decision had yet been taken.

The Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan told Mr McConnell the biggest threat to the morale of Scottish solders in Iraq was that they were there under false pretences.

"Bring home the troops now," he said, "to prevent any more blood being spilled and any more hearts being broken."

Mr Sheridan is standing down as leader of the Scottish Socialist Party.

Star performer

He will remain an MSP and an ordinary member of the party he founded from a factional collection of left wing groups five years ago.

He has been their star performer ever since and has turned his one man band into a group of six MSPs and 3,500 members.

He told reporters he was resigning to become "a Socialist dad". His wife Gail is expecting their first child in six months time.

The other main news this week has been the decision of the Scottish Executive to go ahead with an all-out ban on smoking in enclosed public places.

Black Watch soldier
It follows the biggest ever consultation exercise carried out by the executive, receiving 53,000 responses, overwhelmingly in favour of a ban.

The new law will come into effect early in 2006. The ban will include pubs, restaurants, social and sporting clubs and will be enforced by environmental health officers with the power to impose fines of up to 1,000 for persistent offenders. Landlords will face fines of 2,000 and the withdrawal of their licence.

"We in this parliament have the chance to make the most significant step to improve Scotland's public health for a generation," said Mr McConnell.

Scotland will lead the UK in imposing a smoking ban. Mr McConnell cited Ireland and the city of New York as examples of places where a ban on smoking was working well.

In New York, tax revenues from pubs had actually increased, by 9%. And in Dublin profits were down just 1%, but they were falling anyway.

Voluntary bans

In both places, tobacco sales fell sharply, the intended effect. Some 13,000 Scots die from smoking related diseases every year.

The Conservatives oppose a legal ban on the grounds that voluntary bans are already working on planes, buses, trains and in many restaurants.

But all the other parties welcomed the announcement and confined themselves to asking questions of detail.

Among those supporting the ban is the Liberal Democrat MSP from the Borders, Jeremy Purvis.

Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan announced his resignation as SSP leader
Unfortunately, just hours after he was applauding the ban in the chamber, Mr Purvis was caught smoking a cigar in his room against the no-smoking rules at Holyrood.

He apologised quickly to the parliamentary authorities. "I shouldn't have done it and I will not do it again," he said.

It was an eventful day for Mr Purvis. He also led a member's debate on his new bill to allow physician assisted suicide.

Any patient with a terminal illness and given less than six months to live would be allowed to ask their doctor for a lethal dose of medicine which they would take when they felt the time was right. Mr Purvis says it would allow very ill people "to die with dignity."

The bill will be strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and by the British Medical Association, who say suicide is morally wrong and any involvement by doctors would undermine the trust between doctor and patient.

Foster homes

On Thursday morning there was a long debate on foster care.

The minister Euan Robson promised an extra 12m for the "unsung heroes" who provided a home for some of Scotland's most troubled and vulnerable youngsters.

There are currently 3,400 young people in foster homes but there is a shortage of 700 carers.

The committees have spent another week ploughing through the executive's budget proposals for next year.

Jeremy Purvis - picture supplied by Scottish Parliament
Jeremy Purvis has promised to toe the line
A trail of ministers have been explaining their spending plans beneath the white spotlights of the committee rooms.

Only the petitions committee provided us with some lighter relief.

A gentleman from Wiltshire, John Heselden, prompted MSPs to ask the executive what it's doing to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of William Wallace on 25th August next year.

He wants the UK parliament to issue some sort of pardon for Wallace's "wrongful" conviction for treason.

And the RSPB wanted the committee to back its suggestion that the golden eagle should be adopted as the national bird of Scotland.

National bird

But Labour's Helen Eadie thought it was too aggressive and she nominated the dove of peace. Other suggestions have been the osprey or the capercaillie or the oystercatcher.

England has already bagged the robin and Wales the red kite.

The RSPB put up the Conservative MSP Annabel Goldie to argue its case.

"Em, to avoid confusion, " she began, "it's the golden eagle we want as the national bird, not me!"

I feel another Scottish Executive "consultation" coming on.


SEE ALSO:
MSP vows to toe no-smoking line
12 Nov 04 |  Scotland
Sheridan brands gossip as 'crap'
11 Nov 04 |  Scotland
Scots smoking ban details set out
10 Nov 04 |  Scotland
PM pressed on regiments decision
11 Nov 04 |  Scotland
Call to let patients die in peace
11 Nov 04 |  Scotland
Eagle eyed up as national bird
10 Nov 04 |  Scotland


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