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Looking to Holyrood

Betsan Powys | 10:15 UK time, Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Are you watching?

I'm wondering how many other offices in the National Assembly have tuned into the debate happening now in the Scottish parliament, the debate on the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

It looks like a pretty full house in Holyrood. The contributions so far have been passionate, forceful from all sides. Some have been confrontational, more confrontational than one or two of their fellow MSPs might have hoped. Some use strong language to better effect than others and yes, opinion is generally dividing along party lines.

But how many others in offices in the National Assembly and beyond are following the debate and mulling over the reasons we're rarely treated to such cogent, purposeful, flowing debate here? Is it the arena, the issue they're debating, or those debating it?


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  • 1. At 12:24pm on 02 Sep 2009, christiancitizen wrote:

    The view from the public gallery on my one and only visit to a debate said it all - one AM was reading a newspaper, another was surfing a news website and a Minister was doing paperwork. One or two others were chatting to each other. Others were listening to the debate but I got the impression that they wern't exactly hanging on every word that was spoken. All in all I wasn't impressed. If AMs don't show much interest in proceedings how can they expect the rest of us to?

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  • 2. At 3:22pm on 02 Sep 2009, Benedek wrote:

    The difference is that in the Scottish Parliament it is clear that there is no love lost between many of the politicians. Can you ever see a coalition government between the SNP and Labour? Salmond is also a divisive politician compared to Rhodri Morgan who is like blancmange in comparison. The result is that in the Scottish parliament there is often a real bite to the debates. In Wales we have an 'after you Claude' approach to politics. The way in which AMs are allowed to call each other by their first names also doesn't help. Who knows perhaps if the Labour Party had gone into opposition then we might have real debate and real passion about the issues that matter to ordinary voters.

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  • 3. At 5:45pm on 02 Sep 2009, Igotitallwrongsorry wrote:

    As 1 said the appearance given is that the AM's are "busy" with their computers rather than concentrating on verbal contributions from other AM's/ Ministers and looking for weakness in their arguments/positions. The current "PACT" between Labour/ NATS means that all their AM's not on the gravy train are oh so keen not to upset applecart as they want "buggins turn" asap. The very structure of public services in wales in which the only game in town is "State Socialism" which means there is never any debate upon the merits of encouraging private provision,grammar schools,tax credits for people wishing to take up medical services from private sector etc etc. We are effectively stuck in 1945 method of provision and debates (and barely that) are about "outcomes" ie tractor production as per USSR debates.

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  • 4. At 6:13pm on 02 Sep 2009, Returnee wrote:


    Real powers, real responsibilities.

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  • 5. At 7:15pm on 03 Sep 2009, West-Wales wrote:

    Surprised there are few comments on this - the difference between Holyrood and the Senedd were stark.

    Betsan asks
    But how many others in offices in the National Assembly and beyond are following the debate and mulling over the reasons we're rarely treated to such cogent, purposeful, flowing debate here? Is it the arena, the issue they're debating, or those debating it?

    The debate was important, with deep divisions, but we see this level of interaction regularly in the Scottish parliament, even on mundane things.
    So I think we can definitely rule out the issue.

    The arena has an important impact - the Holyrood layout is clearly a chamber of Government. It is clean, fresh, with the atmosphere clear and bright.
    The steeply tiered seats arranged in a curve, to face the chair, allow everyone to see the face of the member speaking.
    There are no distractions those present are there to listen and take part.
    At Holyrood it was obvious the undivided attention of the members, who conducted themselves with the dignity their position merited, played no small part in honing the intellectual cut and thrust.

    By comparison the Senedd is dark, scruffy,untidy,it may work as an internet cafe (I would think twice about using it) but as a forum for incisive intellectual debate, it doesn't work.
    There is little spontaneity in debates almost no flashes of brilliant insight.
    Few in the chamber seem to take any interest in what anyone is saying - no debates just a procession of prepared statements.

    As for Betsan's question about the ability of those taking part - because the Senedd does not lend itself as a forum for this level of debate, we have had little chance to judge capability of the members.

    But I am not impressed - they have failed us dramatically.
    Not because they don't have powers as Returnee suggests in #4.
    But because they have proved incapable of using the powers they have.
    Maybe because of the failings of the Senedd, but more likely because they are simply not up to the job.

    Lets face, its with the Senedd they demonstrate their incompetence, if they can't see why the Senedd is effectively useless as a Government debating forum. And sort it out - what hope have they got of being an effective government of Wales.

    We can all see the difference between Holyrood and the Senedd - has any AM got the ability to do something about it - don't hold your breath!!!

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  • 6. At 08:31am on 04 Sep 2009, Igotitallwrongsorry wrote:

    5 West Wales.I'm also surprised about lack of "demand" on this issue,particularly as even Betsan seems to be implying that the Assembly is a pretty uninspiring political arena. In defence of the AM's they are in a building that cost £100 million as compared to the £500 million for the one in Edinborough. I have not visited the chamber but in my humble opinion the whole building is very ordinary and very very grey and uninviting. Yes I know the publicity machine will tell you how many people visit it but amongst the people I speak to it isnt regarded very highly. It must be admitted that the recent debate was about something that really mattered on a world stage,with serious potential ramification for Scotland regarding trade with the mighty USA and also whether the devolution settlement was really workable within the UK structure which has overall responsibility for things that really really matter. We'll have to see the end result but the parliamentarians up north seemed to be more self confident and happy in their environement as compared to our lot down here. Plainly our AM's will have to be concerned about their lack of presence,lack of interllectual debate,continually on their workstations in public view,as if Betsan thinks it very ordinary what do the ordinary punters think??

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  • 7. At 12:24pm on 04 Sep 2009, West-Wales wrote:

    Igotitallwrongsorry - 6

    I don't think the cost of the Venue has much to do with this - you can set up a debating chamber in a barn if necessary.

    The the Assembly is suitably impressive and adequately served with offices etc. enough for what we need.

    No - The debating chamber has an inappropriately designed layout, and poorly thought though idea of how it should function.

    Needs to be rethought and remodelled.

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  • 8. At 10:35pm on 04 Sep 2009, Returnee wrote:

    5 & 7,

    Maybe a bit of cultural cringe as well. It took Australia a long time to find its feet in this respect. As you suggest, it is up to the AMs to up the ante, especially during the PMs that seem to stretch out a bit at the moment.

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  • 9. At 11:44pm on 07 Sep 2009, Lyn David Thomas wrote:

    I love the building, The roof with its iconic funnel is wonderful, the chamber allows all members to see eachother and if the debates are not always full of fire its because of what it can debate about. Id rather discussions than empty bluster and false rhetoric designed to stir crowds. The body is much more friendly than is Westminster where the yah boo of the place does not give us debate, just entrenched positions playing to the gallery. I often stroll over to the place to enjoy a coffee and watch the world go buy.

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  • 10. At 00:18am on 08 Sep 2009, Jack_Wilkinson wrote:

    often stroll over to the place to enjoy a coffee and watch the world go buy.

    Aww, Lynn, that's lovely, that is? Proper Rhodri Welsh?....Isn't it?.....Bless?

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  • 11. At 7:27pm on 08 Sep 2009, West-Wales wrote:

    Wondered why so few posts on this - talking to an very senior Academic during lunch break from a meeting yesterday, Politics and the Scottish debate regarding Ali al-Megrahi came up.

    She was very impressed with the standard of Scottish debate, so I asked her what she thought of our Senedd.

    Her answer gave me the reason for shortage of posts - we are all (sorry Lyn - almost all) totally ashamed of what passes for debate in that place, and the standard of our AM's.

    As Returnee said about something else "Cringeworthy".

    We simply don't want to talk about it!!!

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  • 12. At 8:00pm on 08 Sep 2009, John Henry wrote:

    There are 3 million of us, what is there to govern? It's not as if we are different to anyone else in the United Kingdom, we do not have different needs, except ........... the descendants of Saunders Lewis, nationalists, see an opportunity for power, much as other self seekers through the ages ........... Oh, and a need to spend, spend, spend, the WAG that is; reminiscent of a Yorkshire housewife Viv Nicholson who won on the football pools, she became a pauper ...........

    I've said it before, a mayor, a deputy, and reps from the councils, that is all that is needed.

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  • 13. At 4:30pm on 09 Sep 2009, mapex55 wrote:

    message 12....

    Stoney, the foolish see the kings 'new suit', the wise keep schtum, for fear of causing a scene.

    Out here in the real world is that little kid, worldly unwise and innocent, who will say the "king is in the altogether" .

    But what the foolish cannot seem to comprehend is the sad fact that when they get this 'independence' or assembly, with law making powers, all they will actually do is hand over Wales to just another bunch of power crazed bureaucrats, with a civil service establishment that will need FEEDING with the wallet contents of the people.

    Or to put it another way, everything will change, as it stays the same, but I fear it will be far worse than staying the same.

    Your final line I totally concur with.

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  • 14. At 5:27pm on 09 Sep 2009, John Henry wrote:

    I agree mapexx, the major discussion in the Conservative party at the moment is cascading democracy down from government to people in small groups.

    This particular policy is a major disaster for Plaid who see their left of Labour politics jeopardised by democracy itself, at a local level, Wales region, I believe Labour and the Conservatives with possibly the Lib Dems, should support the concept as it reduces the influence of the separatist. It becomes very difficult to galvanise a population into a separatist mode when the population is in charge of its own future.

    If you consider regional politics as working to achieve the best outcomes for the population, where does Nationalism fit into the model, it doesn't. In fact party politics becomes quite a minor issue.

    I don't have a problem working with Labour or the Lib Dem's as long as the intention is to provide a better place for people to live their lives without extremists dictating policy, if I can work with others, could others work with the Conservative Party; at the moment it seems that the only new ideas are in fact coming from the Conservatives, just as good ideas have come from the Labour Party and a little further back the Liberals.

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  • 15. At 6:48pm on 09 Sep 2009, mapex55 wrote:

    message 14....

    If I had my way Stoney, I would make it damned illegal to even mention partisan politics in local councils, no matter what size they are.

    As far as I see it, the local council has but one function, and that is to obtain taxation from the local community, and to expend that taxation on community needs, be it roads, schools, painting the houses or whatever, and doing the multitudinous tasks that councils are supposed to take on board.
    That, I insist does not include forking out inordinate sums of taxpayers cash to further the dictates of a regional Assembly, especially in the matter of political schemes, such as enforced language promotion, that at bottom line is little more than indoctinaire politics.

    As you stated before, all that is needed is local, and capable management, of the community.

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