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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 21:16 GMT
MSPs put in a spin over Trident
John Knox
Political reporter, BBC Scotland

Has the Trident vote at Westminster cracked the political landscape in Scotland?

Trident submarine
Fifteen Labour MPs voted against Trident

That's the question which has been spinning around Holyrood this week.

The Prime Minister's visit to Scotland on Friday only posed the question again.

It was his decision after all to press ahead with renewing Britain's nuclear submarine fleet at Faslane which exposed the "democratic deficit" now opening up in the Labour Party and between the nations of the United Kingdom.

Out of the 59 Scottish MPs at Westminster, 33 voted against renewing Trident, 4 abstained.

Fifteen Labour MPs voted against, half the party's backbenchers in Scotland.

The Tories paid a heavy price in Scotland for imposing the Poll Tax and Labour will pay a heavy price for imposing Trident
Nicola Sturgeon

At question time, the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon said Labour had no mandate to "impose" Trident on Scotland.

"The Tories paid a heavy price in Scotland for imposing the poll tax and Labour will pay a heavy price for imposing Trident," she said.

"The majority of Scottish people do not want to see 25bn wasted on weapons of mass destruction and certainly do not want to see them dumped on the Clyde."

First Minister Jack McConnell is struggling to keep Labour together on the issue of Trident.

His tactic is to say it's a matter for Westminster and to focus on the home rule issues of jobs, schools, hospitals, crime and transport.

He attacked the SNP for their plans announced this week for what he called "poll tax 2".

"The nationalists would impose a flat rate poll tax across Scotland," he said.

'Utter nonsense'

"And a cut in the local government budget to go along with it.

"Not even the Tories, when they imposed their poll tax on Scotland, proposed cutting services at the same time."

Nicola Sturgeon said: "Never before has one man talked so much utter nonsense in one answer."

The SNP deny there will be any service cuts and their 3p in the pound local income tax will leave all but the very rich better off than under the present property-based council tax.

But before we leave Trident, the Liberal Democrats were allowed an unusual privilege at question time.

Jim Wallace was called to ask question number two.

Major Reform

He pointed out the difference between Labour's "rush to replace Trident " and the Liberal Democrats' policy of waiting a while and instead "making an immediate 50% cut in Britain's nuclear warheads to breathe new life in the international non-proliferation treaty."

The Trident debate has certainly opened up the old fault lines between the parties and deep inside the Labour Party, just seven weeks away from an election, when - according to the opinion polls - the SNP are expected to make big gains.

Perhaps Tony Blair should have remembered the old Norse proverb - when you walk across a crevasse field, do not stamp your feet. (Actually I just made that up.)

Parliament this week passed a major reform of the court sentencing system.

Prison officer
Prisoners would not be eligible for automatic early release

At present, anyone sentenced to four years or less is automatically released from prison half way through their sentence, without conditions.

It was a measure introduced by the Conservatives in the 1990s because of severe prison overcrowding.

They've since changed their minds and have been campaigning hard in recent years to have it reversed.

The new system introduced by the Labour Lib-Dem coalition will introduce a system of "prison-plus".

The trial judge will lay down a period to be spent in prison and then a second period to be spent in the community under supervision.

The Conservatives' Annabel Goldie described it as a "mongrel system".

She said: "All prisoners could now stroll out after half their sentences. If it looks like early release, if it smells like early release, then it is early release."

Incidentally, the same bill introduces a ban on the sale of swords and a licensing system for shops which sell knives.

Another bill to finish its passage through parliament this week is the bill to build a rail link to Edinburgh Airport.

Edinburgh Airport
The total cost the Edinburgh rail link would be 610m

This involves nine miles of new track to connect the airport to the Edinburgh/Glasgow line and to the Fife/northern line.

It will mean an underground station at the airport and two tunnels under the runway.

Total cost 610m, three times what it's costing for a rail link to Glasgow Airport.

The SNP and the Greens said the money could be better spent on other transport projects.

And the third bill of the week was the school meals bill.

This lays down minimum nutritional standards for all food served in school, whether in the canteen or in a tuck shop or from a vending machine.

It's an attempt to cut down on junk food and is to be accompanied by a healthy eating campaign, including advice to parents on snack boxes and packed lunches.

By the time we get to the election on 3 May, the Scottish Parliament will have passed 128 acts and 4,400 regulations.

Not bad for eight years' work.

Children eating school meal
The School Meals Bill was passed unanimously by MSPs

The subordinate legislation committee this week alone had no fewer than 65 regulations to be passed.

Just to mention a few - an order laying down how many people can sit on the court of Queen Margaret University, a change to tuberculosis regulations, a change to waste management regulations (the 21st such change), rules on horse passports and cattle identification, inshore fishing orders in the Firth of Lorn and changes to individual learning accounts.

The Labour Party is promising to cut such red tape if it's re-elected, with a pledge that for every new regulation, it will scrap an existing one.

The business community will be pleased, though, if you look into their claim that red tape is costing them 3.5bn a year, they are in fact counting the cost of implementing the new rules and not complaining that they are unnecessary.

We live in a complicated world.

Millionth visitor

There were a few moments this week when we were able to lift our heads out of the rule book.

Rob Gibson led a debate on Scotland's traditional music. Karen Gillon led a debate on the Scotland-Malawi partnership.

I had the privilege of meeting two women from Zimbabwe who were here to campaign for a Zimbabwe People's Charter.

Nurse on ward
Scotland's 67,000 nurses will get their full 2.5% pay rise on 1 April

They spoke of their detention and beatings by the Mugabe regime and said Morgan Tsvangirai's treatment this week was typical of what many people in Zimbabwe are suffering.

Finally, on Thursday the new parliament building welcomed its one millionth visitor.

She is 11-year-old Eilidh Willis who came with her classmates from the primary school on the island of Lismore, off Oban. "I will remember this visit for the rest of my life," she said.

So too will the health minister Andy Kerr.

Because the children brought with them a petition calling for the restoration of the post of district nurse for the island (population 170).

Mr Kerr has just granted Scotland's 67,000 nurses their full 2.5% pay rise on 1 April, in defiance of the Chancellor Gordon Brown who has staged the increase for the rest of the UK.

Now he's got no money left to pay for a district nurse on Lismore.


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