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Last Updated: Friday, 2 June 2006, 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK
Strange days in the Holyrood bowl
By John Knox
Political reporter, BBC Scotland

From now on, goldfish will no longer be allowed as prizes at a funfair.

The animal welfare bill, passed this week at Holyrood, says that amounts to cruelty.

Goldfish will not be on offer as prizes

So too is the docking of dogs' tails.

But cooks will still be allowed to plunge lobsters live into boiling water.

They do not feel pain, apparently... the lobsters, not the cooks.

It was another of those strange psychedelic weeks in politics when nothing seems quite real.

It's like a game played out on a croquet lawn or a tug o' war competition won by the Tories... although these things did actually happen.

Yes, the animal welfare reforms were substantial and far-reaching but the major debate of Wednesday afternoon was on whether there should be an exemption to the ban on tail docking for certain types of working dogs.

Chasing her tail

Gamekeepers, in their tweeds, turned up outside the parliament, with their spaniels and terriers, to bark on about dogs suffering terrible injuries because they had not had their tails docked. It was another case of city politicians not knowing about country ways.

It left the minister, Rhona Brankin, chasing her own tail.

She insisted on a ban on tail docking, won the vote, then proceeded to offer concessions to the gamekeepers, saying she would look again at an exemption for working dogs.

We want to bring an end to animal suffering in Scotland
Rhona Brankin
Deputy Environment Minister

By comparison, the rest of the bill seemed quite sensible.

Animal owners will have a new duty of care placed upon them, allowing the police and animal welfare officers to intervene where cruelty is likely to occur, not having to wait until cruelty has actually happened.

Children under 16 will no longer be allowed to buy animals. No animals can be offered as a prize. The filming of dog fights will be outlawed.

Ministers will be allowed to carry out "firebreak" culls of animals in the case of a major outbreak of disease such as foot-and-mouth or avian flu - but only after making a full statement of the scientific case for doing so.

The penalty for failing to care for an animal is being raised to 5,000, or six months in jail. The penalty for animal cruelty will go up to 20,000, or 12 months in jail.

Nuclear power

"We want to bring an end to animal suffering in Scotland," said Ms Brankin.

Question time on Thursday began with a repeat of two weeks ago when the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon wondered again what the first minister's views were on nuclear power.

Again he told her could not pre-empt the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management which was due to report later in the summer.

The Conservative leader Annabel Goldie saved the day by talking about something new, the case of a 16-year-old boy allowed to go on holiday to Bulgaria while he was electronically tagged and on bail facing a charge of murder.

SSP leader Colin Fox and his predecessor Tommy Sheridan
Colin Fox and Tommy Sheridan showed a united front

"It's just the latest outrage in a crumbling judicial system," she told the first minister.

Jack McConnell replied that he expected all those tagged to be kept under supervision until they appear at their trial.

The local procurator fiscal had been asked to investigate the Kilmarnock case and new laws on bail were being drafted.

The first minister then went on to meet the Bulgarian ambassador, who just happened to be visiting the parliament that day. But the two men, apparently, did not discuss the case.

It then emerged that the Crown Office had not objected to the application for a variation in the conditions of bail.

Series of anomalies

The boy was only tagged in the first place because he happened to be living in a pilot area for the new tagging system.

And if he had been living elsewhere, he might well have been released on bail to travel anywhere he liked.

The first minister had no sooner dealt with this series of anomalies in the justice system than he was faced with another.

Lord Hamilton
Lord Hamilton has been on sick leave since April

He made an emergency statement to parliament on Thursday afternoon on the arrangements to replace the country's senior judge, Lord Hamilton, who has been on sick leave, suffering from stress, since early April.

There will have to be an urgent change in the law - this month - to allow his deputy, Lord Gill, to take over his duties. It is strange this had not been thought of before in the long history of Scots law.

Back at question time, the Socialist leader Colin Fox had the courage to refer to his own party's stress and absurdities.

"When the first minister next meets the chancellor," Mr Fox asked, "can he ask him for my book back... the one about how to support your party leader and build respect amongst your colleagues.

"I want to lend it to someone else!"

He was referring to his former leader Tommy Sheridan, who this week wrote an astonishing open letter to Socialist Party members accusing a "cabal" of seven or eight senior comrades, including the co-founder Alan McCombes, of behaving in a "Stalinist" manner and of misleading the party.

Socialist intrigue

Mr McCombes spent last weekend in jail for refusing to hand over to the courts "minutes" of a meeting at which Tommy Sheridan's defamation case against the News of the World was supposedly discussed.

There are not enough megabytes in this computer to explain this tale of Socialist intrigue.

Suffice to say that Tommy is going ahead with his court case and it promises to be one of the great turning points in the class struggle.

Meanwhile, he and Colin Fox were pictured walking down the Royal Mile together "the best of friends" after an official comradely "blether".

Fingerprint experts giving evidence before the Justice 1 Committee
Fingerprint experts said they stood by their identification

At the justice committee we had another Strawberry Fields experience.

Four highly plausible officers from the Glasgow fingerprint bureau explained exactly what happened in the Shirley McKie case.

They told MSPs they remained convinced they had got the original fingerprint identification correct, despite the Scottish Executive's line that there had been "an honest mistake".

The explanation for much of the confusion among other experts, they said, was a 30,000 computer system which produced distorted images and was finally abandoned.

A common expression around Holyrood this week was: "You could not make it up."

New building

The week ended with a debate on architecture. This was the debate postponed from 2 March, when a beam slipped from the roof of the debating chamber and cost somebody, we don't know who, the best part of half a million pounds.

It came just two days after a visit to the parliament by Britain's best known architectural critic, Prince Charles.

He had come to address a meeting of volunteers from the Prince's Trust but everyone was expecting him to say what he thought of the new building.

Alas, he maintained a diplomatic silence, though he was reported to have told one of the volunteers that he found the building "intriguing".

Indeed it is. And so are the people who work in this goldfish bowl... although none of us got here by being prizes at the funfair.

Probe into murder suspect holiday
01 Jun 06 |  Glasgow and West
Legal moves after judge's absence
01 Jun 06 |  Scotland
Compromise on tail docking plans
31 May 06 |  Scotland
Fox and Sheridan in united front
30 May 06 |  Scotland
Print experts stand by McKie ID
30 May 06 |  Scotland

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