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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 December, 2004, 06:48 GMT
Politics review: April to June
BBC Scotland
BBC Scotland was criticised at the Fraser Inquiry
In the second of a four-part series, Brian Ponsonby looks back at the major political stories in 2004.

Less than three months after the bruising conclusions of the Hutton report, the BBC was at loggerheads with the government again - this time in Scotland.

The corporation had refused to hand over un-transmitted tapes to the Fraser Inquiry, which included interviews with the late First Minister Donald Dewar and Holyrood architect Enric Miralles.

The row had been simmering for months and with no conclusion in sight, the Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie led calls for the BBC to be forced to hand over the tapes.

He said the impasse was "simply not good enough" and called the Holyrood project "the biggest political scandal of devolution".

When the issue was put to the vote, MSPs voted against ordering the BBC to hand over the tapes.

Instead, the parliament supported an amendment calling for Lord Fraser to be given "appropriate access".

Prisoner release

Despite repeated attempts to resolve the situation the deadlock would never be broken, leading to more critical comments for the BBC.

Lord Fraser heard a few more days of evidence in April, and some final submissions before two days of closing statements in May.

It would be September before he delivered his verdict on perhaps the most controversial public-funded project ever undertaken in Scotland.

Reliance van
The Reliance contract was under scrutiny after a mistaken prisoner release
In April, private security firm Reliance took over the contract for prisoner escort.

The accidental release of prisoners led Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson to order an inquiry, but opposition parties called for her to be sacked.

During a statement to MSPs, Ms Jamieson said Reliance had "seriously underestimated" the challenge of its duties.

But Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon said the assurances the minister had sought from Reliance amounted to "closing the cell door after the prisoner has bolted".

"It is time for Cathy to go," she said.

The Scottish Tories' justice spokeswoman, Annabel Goldie, backed the SNP calls.

"In my opinion she is going to have to resign because there is a huge question of public confidence in her political credibility."

Slopping out

However, Ms Jamieson survived the torrent of controversy.

By August, an Audit Scotland report revealed that the performance of the security firm was improving and the roll-out of its contract across the country was gathering pace.

During April, it seemed that issues relating to prisoners would not go away.

Slopping out
Ministers lost a court case over slopping out
As debate raged over the Reliance contract, a court ruling over slopping out gave Ms Jamieson more to worry about.

In a 100-page ruling, Lord Bonomy awarded 2,400 to a prisoner who was held at Barlinnie Jail in Glasgow.

The inmate claimed that the practice, where prisoners use buckets in their cells, breached his human rights.

The Scottish Executive said that money should be spent on modernising prisons, not compensating prisoners, and said it would appeal the decision.

But Ms Jamieson faced further embarrassment when it emerged that an "administrative error" had resulted in the appeal deadline being missed.

After executive lawyers explain the error in court and apologised, ministers were granted more time.

Opera row

During October the Scottish Prison Service denied setting aside funds to cover similar claims.

But its annual accounts did show that it has a contingency liability fund of 26m.

April also saw a false dawn for embattled SNP leader John Swinney.

Delegates overwhelmingly backed his plan to shake up the running of the party at its Aberdeen conference.

The article was the result of a direct leak from the executive in which clearly the first minister has been involved
Christopher Barron
Scottish Opera
Days after this endorsement, the rebel West of Scotland MSP, Campbell Martin, was suspended after calling for Mr Swinney to be replaced as leader.

He was later expelled, but any impression that his suspension had re-asserted Mr Swinney's authority was to be short lived.

As if to prepare everyone for the high drama of June, May served up a row over opera.

It centred on an article in the Sunday Herald newspaper which said that Scottish Opera would be bailed out of its financial difficulties to the tune of 5m.

In a letter to staff, the company's chairman, Christopher Barron, said he deplored the publication of details relating to the rescue.

"The article was the result of a direct leak from the executive in which clearly the first minister has been involved," he said.

A spokeswoman for Jack McConnell admitted that he did have an off the record chat with a newspaper editor, but no information breaching ministerial codes was given.

Scottish Opera
The Scottish Opera 'leak' proved troublesome for the Executive
That wasn't enough for opposition parties, who demanded that the executive's permanent secretary look into the matter.

But amid heated exchanges in the chamber, Mr McConnell said: "I have no intention of ordering an inquiry into any leaks.

"Scottish Opera and the trade unions have been involved in discussions over recent weeks.

"I wouldn't want some civil servant questioning them and asking what they did or did not say to a journalist. This is a ridiculous situation."

The Scottish Conservatives then asked the parliamentary standards commissioner to investigate the matter but were left disappointed when Dr Jim Dyer said it was not within his remit.

Tory culture spokesman, Jamie McGrigor, said the decision "appears to leave a gaping hole in procedures that govern the conduct of ministers in general and the first minister in particular".

D-Day U-turn

In May, the Scottish Socialist, Carolyn Leckie, became the first MSP to be expelled from the parliament's debating chamber.

She was shown the door for "disorderly behaviour" after a row with Presiding Officer George Reid.

Just before the start of First Minister's Questions, Ms Leckie tried to raise a point of order about the nursery nurses' strike.

But when Mr Reid told her to make her point of order later, she protested and was ultimately told to leave the chamber.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell attended the Normandy commemoration
With the arrival of June, the European election and John Swinney's D-Day was just weeks away.

But before any votes were cast, the first minister landed in some D-Day bother of his own.

Mr McConnell infuriated veterans by turning down an invitation to attend a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Instead he opted to attend a dinner to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews.

The decision provoked uproar and the first minister faced, perhaps, the fiercest criticism directed at him since taking office.

Words and phrases like "snub", "insult", "shame" and "appalling judgement" were hurled at him from those inside and outside the Holyrood village.

In the end it was all too much and Mr McConnell agreed to attend the commemoration in Normandy.

Euro election

An executive spokeswoman later said: "The first minister told cabinet he took full responsibility for the initial decision not to go to the D-Day events in Normandy."

And she said Mr McConnell told ministers: "When I get it wrong and can take the chance to correct that decision, I am happy to do so."

If John Swinney took some comfort from the first minister's difficulties it was short-lived.

When the European election results were counted in June it was clear that the SNP had performed badly.

I have decided not to seek re-nomination as leader of the Scottish National Party
John Swinney MSP
Labour won two seats as did the Tories and the SNP, while the Liberal Democrats won one.

But the nationalists fell well short of their declared target of overhauling Labour in the election, which saw a 30.9% turnout.

When it emerged that their share of the vote had dropped by just over 7%, the knives were out for Mr Swinney.

He told his MSPs that he had no intention of resigning and said the party had been "bedevilled" by internal strife in the run-up to the election.

As a consequence, he said, the SNP had failed to explain to the public what it stood for, beyond independence.

But that wouldn't wash with his critics and resignation calls followed.

The first came from former SNP MSP Gil Paterson - a member of the party's ruling national executive.

John Swinney
John Swinney resigned as SNP leader in June
He said it was time that Mr Swinney was told by close friends and colleagues that his time was up.

Mr Paterson said others within the party, even the former leader Alex Salmond, were capable of taking over.

The former deputy leader, Jim Sillars, also called for Mr Swinney to go, saying the party faced a "leathering" at the next general election.

And the former MSP, Mike Russell, also questioned whether he could carry on.

When newspapers began conducting 'straw polls' which showed that Mr Swinney only had the support of half of 41 local SNP branch conveners and 11 of the party's 26 MSPs, it was all over.

The formal announcement finally came on the morning of Tuesday 22 June.

In a statement at the party's headquarters in Edinburgh, he said: "I have taken a few days to reflect on the results of the European elections and the implications for the Scottish National Party.

"As a result, I have decided not to seek re-nomination as leader of the Scottish National Party.

"It has become clear to me over the last few days that the constant and relentless speculation over my position is obscuring - and crucially in my judgement, will continue to obscure - the political objectives of the SNP.

"I have come to the view that the SNP cannot make the electoral progress I believe is possible, if our vital political message is communicated through an endless debate about my leadership."

'Porky pie-gate

The catalyst for Mr Swinney's resignation had been the party's poor performance in the European election.

It was ironic therefore, that the following day, MSPs passed a bill which could boost the SNP's showing in future council elections.

The Local Governance Bill means the first-past-the-post voting system for local elections will be replaced with the single transferable vote.

This system of proportional representation was a condition of the partnership agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Frank McAveety
Frank McAveety apologised over 'porky pie-gate'
It is hugely unpopular with many grass-roots Labour activists and councillors as it will probably break the party's hold on power in many areas.

The new system is expected to be in place for the next council elections in 2007.

The second quarter of 2004 ended with the bizarre incident that has since been dubbed 'porky pie-gate'.

Tourism Minister Frank McAveety was forced to apologise unreservedly for misleading parliament after turning up late for question time.

Mr McAveety told MSPs he was detained on ministerial business, but was actually having lunch in the canteen.

Journalists later claimed to have seen him eating pie, beans and roast potatoes at the time he was due in the chamber.

The first minister told Mr McAveety that his behaviour fell below the standard expected of a minister but he was not sacked.

That would come later in the year.

Politics review: January to March
28 Dec 04 |  Scotland


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