Page last updated at 07:18 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

A week of Broons and Burns at Holyrood

By John Knox
Political reporter, BBC Scotland

As Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown sit down to their Burns Supper with Ma Broon in the Sunday Post this weekend, I can imagine them spinning yarns about their encounter with the ghosts of recession.

Alloway Auld Kirk before the renovation
Unlike Tam o'Shanter, Scotland's leaders are neither fou nor unco happy

Like Tam O'Shanter, they'll claim to be confronting and defeating the witches and warlocks of the economic dance.

They'll certainly be blaming each other for the whole ghastly show.

And they will be holding up six-point plans for getting home, "where sits a sulky sullen electorate, gathering their brows like gathering storm, nursing their wrath to keep it warm."

Alex Salmond tried to hold a candle to the gloom at question time when he announced that the government had just approved one of the world's largest wave power projects.

Forty underwater turbines off the west coast of Lewis will create 70 jobs and power 1800 homes.

It's a sign," said Mr Salmond, " that even in these tough economic times there is resilience and strength in the economy."

Renewable energy is, of course, the great green hope of Scotland. And MSPs have been debating its place in the recovery programme.

The report from the Council of Economic Advisers - debated on Thursday - suggested it was one of the "key industries" we ought to be investing in for the future, though the Council also seems to have wrung a concession out of the government that there should be a review of its non-nuclear policy.

Only the Greens and the Liberal Democrats voted against.

There is rising anger at Holyrood that we are in a recession at all.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to call the bank executives before an inquisition to explore their role in the banking collapse and how they are able to walk away with huge bonuses.

Share prices
Bankers were blamed in the Parliament for the deepening recession

"The bankers have made monkeys out of the government," said the Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott at question time.

Alex Salmond said he would be happy to support an inquiry provided it's not just into the "deplorable" actions of the bankers but also into "the regulators who allowed it to happen and ministers who were in charge of policy over long years."

The depth of the recession was hinted at in a squall of black figures that came across the Holyrood horizon this week.

Unemployment in the last quarter went up 13,000 to 138,000, or 5.2 per cent.

The Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses told the economy committee that employment, orders and expectations were down and credit was hard to get.

They pleaded with MSPs to postpone new regulations such as the new licensing laws and waste management rules.

The government this week tried to help families who are falling behind with their mortgage payments.

The number is up from around 200,000 to 500,000 across the UK.

The housing minister Stewart Maxwell announced a new mortgage- to-shared-equity scheme under which the government would take part-ownership of a house, allowing the family to stay there but make lower mortgage repayments.

Next week's budget might help too. Negotiations are still going on behind the scenes but it looks like the SNP are working towards a deal with the Conservatives and the Greens which will ensure the budget has a majority in the final vote on Wednesday.

At question time Labour's Iain Gray steered clear of the reefs of recession and highlighted the issue of knife crime.

There was a full conference on the subject in the Holyrood chamber on Friday.

He condemned the two year delay in introducing a licensing system for the sale of knives and said the SNP's policy of ending short jail sentences "will leave around 850 convicted knife criminals every single year on our streets free to carry, free to cut and potentially free to kill."

The first minister said the best defence against knife crime was an increase in police numbers.

"My message to the victims of crime is that this government has put record numbers of police onto Scotland's streets to make sure our communities are safe."

Maw Broon's But an' Ben Cookbook
Mr Salmond questioned which of the Broons most resembled Annabel Goldie

Finally, back to Burns. You may remember last week that Alex Salmond stood on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle to help launch the Clydesdale Bank's new series of bank notes, on the theme of Homecoming and the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth.

Well this week, the Conservative leader Annabel Goldie accused Mr Salmond of wanting to get rid of Scottish notes in favour of the Euro.

"Rather than keep the pound and our Scottish bank notes, he'd settle for some centralised Euro note with a bit of regional branding, probably his own face or perhaps a haggis..... and some people wouldn't know the difference."

Ouch, that's a harsh Burns Night jest.

But the great chieftain o' the puddin' race hit back: " I'll settle for my cartoon in the Broons and I wouldn't for a second speculate what character Annabel Goldie might represent!"

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