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On a serious note

  • Brian Taylor
  • 13 Sep 07, 05:10 PM

I’ve heard Holyrood raucous. I’ve witnessed it dull. Today I watched from the media gallery as the chamber’s mood was sombre, serious and reflective. With good reason.

MSPs listened in utter silence as the Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini set out in great and gruesome detail the background to the collapse of the World’s End double murder trial.

In sum, she supported the advocate depute Alan MacKay. She explained the inevitably circumstantial nature of the evidence.

She said that any evidence withheld was excluded on the basis of a “reasoned decision” by the advocate depute, based on the relative weight of that evidence and the overall conduct of the case.

She argued finally that independent Crown counsel must be free to pursue cases without fear of public vilification if those cases fail to result in conviction.

She added: “Armchair commentators, however eminent, are just that.”

It was a potent defence of the Crown, well delivered and commendably thorough.

I offer no comment on the case either way. Not my role - and I wasn’t in court.

But I was intrigued by Elish Angiolini’s broader analysis, in response to questions from opposition MSPs, notably Labour’s Margaret Curran.

The Lord Advocate was asked about whether there might be a right of appeal for the Crown in such cases.

She said she had supported such a concept in advice to Scotland’s justice ministry- while stressing that action on this would be a matter for parliament, not her as the head of the prosecution service.

She also stressed this advice had been delivered “some weeks ago - that is, it was not explicitly linked to the World’s End trial.

Mind you, she did indicate that - hypothetically - she might well have invoked such a right to appeal in the collapsed trial, had it existed.

Earlier, the first minister had suggested in response to Annabel Goldie that an enhanced Crown right of appeal might be an avenue to consider, perhaps instead of abolishing the “double jeopardy” rule which, in Scotland, prevents a retrial where there has been an acquittal.

It would seem, in short, that there is a Criminal Justice Bill in the making - to add to the 11 in last week’s programme for government.

PS: Labour are a little miffed - I stress, only a little in the wider scheme of things - that the answer from Alex Salmond on double jeopardy was delivered to Annabel Goldie.
Labour sources say the first minister had blanked Cathy Jamieson on precisely the same topic when she posed the question minutes before the Tory leader got to her feet.

Recent entries

A break with tradition

  • Brian Taylor
  • 18 May 07, 12:47 PM

By ancient tradition - OK, eight years - opposition leaders crack a few funnies when Holyrood ratifies new ministers.

This week Murdo Fraser was witty, Tavish Scott was droll. Jack McConnell looked like he'd swallowed a particularly toxic wasp.

For why? Well, I suppose it's hard to smile when you've lost office, your car, your salary and your status. Tavish managed it, though.

But there's more. Labour doesn't intend to play by established rules.

They're in opposition, of course, but they will also operate like a standing alternative government.

They'll introduce legislation through members and committee bills. They want a say - a real say - in the executive's budget proposals.

Jack McConnell is the king over the water, waiting for his people to call again.

To help him in stirring that call, he has today appointed a new front bench team, mirroring exactly the ministerial structure of the SNP's government.

It's welcome back to the front bench for Wendy Alexander - who stepped down from Cabinet in 2002 to regain the freedom to think great thoughts. Presumably we will see the results of that exercise when she goes head to head with John Swinney.

I think we can now fairly say that the elections are over.

It's on with governing - and opposing. Which means it's time to sign off this blog.

But fret not: I've been given licence to blog regularly about Scottish politics.

I hope you can join me at my new blog, which you can find by clicking here.

Key to the door

  • Brian Taylor
  • 17 May 07, 03:56 PM

Throughout the campaign, the SNP leaders - mostly - contrived to subdue their smiles.

Or, at the very least, to ensure that they stopped well short of smirk status.

But you could scarcely blame them for grinning fairly broadly as they entered Bute House today for their first Cabinet meeting.

I'd like to think they indulged in a quick collective gloat followed by a group rendition of Flower o' Scotland.

But I know, of course, that they're much too serious.

The old house in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square hasn't seen such doings since it was designed by Robert Adam in 1791.

For more than 40 years, it's been the official residence of the Scottish Secretary - followed by successive first ministers.

Since devolution, it's been the base for Scottish Cabinet meetings - matching the dual function of Downing Street.

But never before has it housed a Nationalist.

PS: Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon arrived in a government Volvo. The other Ministers arrived, together, in two Toyota Prius vehicles.

These, apparently, are hybrids with an electric motor and a petrol engine, designed to cut emissions. They are, according to the manufacturers, "mean but green".

How apt - given the desire of our new rulers to cut costs and help the environment.

Handbags and gladrags

  • Brian Taylor
  • 17 May 07, 11:46 AM

Day One - and he's getting presents already.

I'm talking about our new first minister, Alex Salmond.

This morning he went to the Court of Session to be sworn in as FM, the Royal Warrant having arrived overnight.

He was given custody of the Scottish Seal, on behalf of Her Majesty.

The original Great Seal of Scotland dates back to 1094 when it was first used by King Duncan II. I believe the modern version only dates back to around 1885 when the newly created Scottish Secretary in the UK overnment was made the custodian.

Anyway, Alex is now the Keeper.

And, if I remember aright, he gets a Goodie Bag too - perhaps better known as the Purse.

As Purse bearer, he has to carry a little bag when he is accompanying the Queen on official engagements.

The Scotsman newspaper reported when J. McConnell was first sighted with the Purse that "there really isn't a cool way for a bloke to carry a handbag."

Treat it as a challenge, FM.

Signed and sealed

  • Brian Taylor
  • 17 May 07, 06:29 AM

Yesterday afternoon I interviewed the first minister in St Andrews House. (For those still catching up, the new FM is one A. Salmond, the leader of the SNP).

I interviewed him in the FM's walnut-lined office suite. (I won't tell you which SNP assistant had to ask me where the FM's office was.)

As in the election, he was in emollient mood. Yes, he'll publish a White Paper on an independence referendum - but, yes, he understands the parliamentary arithmetic.

That means he won't attempt to legislate now. A wise choice: he'd lose.

Yes, he'll seek additional powers from London. But he won't demand.

A wise choice, again.

And now we have his Cabinet. Nicola Sturgeon at health, Fiona Hyslop at education, Kenny MacAskill at justice, Richard Lochhead at rural affairs - and John Swinney, Alex Salmond's successor and predecessor (Mr Salmond's been leader twice), at finance.

No place in the top team, for now, for Shona Robison or Fergus Ewing (both of whom had been variously tipped). But they are among the 10 deputies.

Today? These ministers have to be endorsed by parliament - and the new FM will attend the Court of Session to receive the Great Seal of Scotland.

Pinch yourselves, folks, the machinery of state is swinging into smooth action for a Nationalist leader.

The new team

  • Brian Taylor
  • 16 May 07, 12:58 PM

On with government. Alex Salmond, Scotland's new first minister, is in St Andrews House right now, finalising the plans for his team.

He was greeted at the door of executive HQ by Sir John Elvidge, the permanent secretary - who is a decidedly shrewd counsellor.

Mr Salmond will announce a Cabinet of six - plus 10 ministers. They will face a vote of confirmation in parliament tomorrow.

A good day for politics

  • Brian Taylor
  • 16 May 07, 12:00 PM

After the tension of the campaign and the chaos of the count, Holyrood put on its best face for the choice of first minister.

In the second and final round, Alex Salmond was elected by 49 votes (SNP plus Green) to 46 (Labour) with 33 abstentions (Tory/LibDem/Margo).

The speeches were modest, moderate and uniformly gracious.

The new first minister described Scotland as "diverse, not divided" and promised to work entirely in the collective national interest.

Jack McConnell thanked Scotland for the opportunity to serve - and offered well-chosen words of praise to his successor. Both Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen were witty and thoughtful.

It won't last, of course. There will be conflict ahead. How could it be other with a tight, close chamber?

But this was a good day for Holyrood and a good day for decent, democratic politics.

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