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Last Updated: Friday, 10 November 2006, 21:18 GMT
Kriss casts shadow over Holyrood
By John Knox
Political reporter, BBC Scotland

The brutal racial murder of the Glasgow boy Kriss Donald has cast a shadow over proceedings at Holyrood this week.

On Wednesday, up the road at the High Court, three of the attackers, who were found hiding in Pakistan, were sentenced to more than 20 years each.

It turned out that the leader of the gang, 29-year-old Imran Shahid, committed this ghastly crime while he was out on automatic early release from prison.

Kriss Donald

At question time on Thursday, Conservative leader Annabel Goldie asked First Minister Jack McConnell why it had taken him seven years to get around to ending automatic early release?

"Time and time again my party has tried to end automatic early release," she said.

"And time and time again we have been opposed by every other party in this chamber."

The first minister explained that a bill is going through parliament at the moment.

It will end the automatic release of prisoners half way through their sentence (for prisoners serving four year or less).

They could still be released at this time but only under strict conditions and after a safety assessment.

The Conservatives say that could still have left Imran Shahid free to abduct, torture, stab and then burn his 15-year-old white victim.

'Bullying and terror'

They want judges to decide on the appropriate sentence and criminals to serve the full term in prison.

Mr McConnell said this was not the time to debate detailed changes in the law.

Instead he paid tribute to Kriss Donald's mother Angela.

"Her dignity and conduct has been an example to us all," he said.

He praised her efforts to soothe racial tensions in the Pollokshields area and her encouragement for the community to stand up to bullying and terror and report the gang to the police.

He also praised the Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar for his role in tracking the culprits down in Pakistan and persuading the government there to extradite them back to Scotland.

Imran Shahid
Imran Shahid had been released early from prison

The other big story of the parliamentary week turned out to be a damp squib left over from firework night.

Sir Peter Burt's review of local government finance was "rubbished before it was even published," as the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon put it.

The first minister made it clear he would not be accepting its central recommendation, a 1% property tax to replace the council tax.

None of the parties liked the idea.

Sir Peter was rather hurt.

He had put two years work into the review.

"To describe the reaction as knee-jerk would be to ascribe to it a degree of deliberation and forethought that was missing," he said.

And he predicted the politicians would eventually be forced to consider it.

Local income tax

"So having binned the review, what is the first minister's policy on local taxation?, " asked Nicola Sturgeon at question time.

"Reform of the council tax," Mr McConnell replied.

He then used the Burt Report's calculations to suggest that a local income tax would have to be set at 6.5% to raise the same money as the council tax.

That's twice the rate the SNP has been suggesting.

"That leaves a 1bn gap in the SNP's budget." said Mr McConnell.

Equal pay

One finance issue the executive was not keen to debate this week was the simmering row over equal pay in local government.

It was left to the Scottish Socialist Party to lead a debate on the issue on Thursday morning.

Councils are facing a bill of between 310m and 560m in compensation claims from women workers who have not been given equal pay with men for doing the same job.

On top of that, the re-grading exercise for all council workers, begun seven years ago but still not completed, is likely to cost another 200m.

"This is a matter for which local authorities are responsible," the deputy finance minister George Lyon insisted.

He suggested they should dip into their reserves to fund the pay reform package and he ignored opposition calls for the executive to intervene to "knock heads together".

The Socialists also used their allotted time this week to debate housing stock transfer.

They accused the executive of wanting to "privatise" council housing by handing it over to independent housing associations.

Workers in a kitchen
Some women workers have not been given equal pay with men

The policy is "in meltdown", Frances Curran claimed.

It had been rejected by tenants in ballots in Edinburgh, Stirling and Renfrewshire.

And the transfer in Glasgow was in turmoil because the Glasgow Housing Association had still not fulfilled its promise of handing on the houses to local housing associations.

On Wednesday afternoon, MSPs debated Neets, the number of young people not in employment, education or training.

There are 35,000 in Scotland, the highest level in Europe, with 20,000 of those considered hard core permanent Neets.

Enterprise Minister Nicol Stephen outlined his five-point plan to make vocational training more attractive to young people and he announced that five high profile figures from the business community had agreed to become advisors on how to get more young people into work.

They are Mark Adams from Microsoft, David Watt from the accountants KPMG, Euan Davidson from the Princes Trust and Ray Perman from the Hunter Foundation.

John Home Robertson
John Home Robertson said he will stand down next year

And while we are on the subject of involving minorities in the political life of the nation, the parliament hosted a meeting on Tuesday evening for the Commission for Racial Equality.

It invited more than 100 prominent members of Scotland's ethnic minority communities to debate what could be done to ensure that they are fairly represented in parliament.

At present there are no Asian or African or Caribbean members among the 129 MSPs, despite the fact that 2% of the Scottish population are from ethnic minorities.

None of the political parties are willing to make special arrangements to get ethnic candidates into winnable seats, though the SNP point out that the Pakistani businessman Bashir Amed is 2nd on their regional list for Glasgow and so stands a good chance of becoming the Scottish Parliament's first Asian MSP on election day, May 3rd next year.

Helpful character

Finally, the Labour MSP for East Lothian John Home Robertson has announced he is to stand down next May.

He's represented the area, first at Westminster and then at Holyrood for 28 years.

There's speculation he may be appointed to the House of Lords.

A hugely friendly and helpful character, John Home Robertson has no airs or graces, despite coming from a long line of East Lothian gentry.

His ancestors include Andrew Fletcher, one of the few who voted against the union of the parliaments in 1707.

Next year's 300th anniversary will thus be a particularly poignant time for John Home Robertson.

His family will have come full circle and been proved right, home rule was best all along.

The culture minister told us this week it's going to be a year of exhibitions, debates, competitions and a 2 commemorative coin.

I wonder who's head they are going to have on it?


SEE ALSO
Storm over killer's early release
09 Nov 06 |  Glasgow and West
Trio jailed for Kriss race murder
08 Nov 06 |  Glasgow and West
'Replace council tax' says report
09 Nov 06 |  Scotland
Ministers resist pay intervention
09 Nov 06 |  Scotland
Ethnic minorities call to parties
08 Nov 06 |  Scotland
John Home Robertson to stand down
09 Nov 06 |  Edinburgh and East

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