Scotland politics

A year in the Scottish Parliament - 2012

Scottish Parliament

The Scottish political year of 2012 will be remembered for the historic Edinburgh Agreement, laying down the ground rules for the independence referendum due to take place in 2014.

But there have been plenty of memorable occasions in the chamber and committee rooms of the Scottish Parliament.

Here is my selection of highlights from the BBC's Democracy Live coverage of Holyrood.

Click on the in-line links to view on-demand video.

Budget passed

8 February 2012

With a workable SNP majority, Finance Secretary John Swinney no longer needed to engage in last minute horse-trading to get his budget passed. The final debate in the chamber on this matter proved a less nerve-wracking time for the minister who controls the purse strings. Nevertheless it was an important day in the early part of the political calendar.

Debater of the year

22 February 2012

Image caption Dennis Robertson with his daughter Caroline, who died aged 18

In one of the most moving moments at Holyrood this year, SNP MSP Dennis Robertson, whose teenage daughter died after struggling with anorexia nervosa, led his first member's debate, on raising awareness of eating disorders.

The speech, which he dedicated to his daughter Caroline, led to Mr Robertson being awarded politician of the year by The Herald newspaper.

It was universally described as courageous and moving by MSPs across the chamber. Mr Robertson called for greater awareness among GPs and medical professionals to enable sufferers to be diagnosed and treated earlier.

He told the chamber: "People in the medical profession must become more aware."

Blanket coverage

21 March 2012

March saw the NHS dominate the political agenda, with Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon telling MSPs she was "shocked and extremely angry" at a report into manipulation of waiting times at NHS Lothian.

This would not be the last time the issue of waiting times hit the headlines.

The very next day, on 22 March 2012, First Minister Alex Salmond was challenged by opposition Labour leader, Johann Lamont, to meet two patients who were left without blankets to keep them warm while in hospital. Despite his refusal during FMQs to accept the challenge, he did indeed meet the pair later.

Holyrood Trumped

25 April 2012

Image caption "I am the evidence," Donald Trump told the committee

More wind than substance? You decide, but this was certainly a day to remember in the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, as Donald "I am the evidence" Trump swept into the Scottish political ring with much bluster.

During its inquiry the committee heard from supporters and opponents of wind farm developments in Scotland, including billionaire property developer Mr Trump.

He told MSPs "I am the evidence" when asked for information to back his claims that wind power will damage Scotland's tourism industry.

Mr Trump added that he had been "lured" into building a £1bn golf resort in Scotland with assurances that a nearby wind farm would not go ahead.

The American said he was assured by the then first minister Jack McConnell, and by Alex Salmond, that the project would not happen.

Lord McConnell and Mr Salmond both denied the claims.

Time called on cheap booze

24 May 2012

If at first you don't succeed - win a majority.

The SNP's majority government helped to make it an easy passage for the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Bill at the second time of asking.

During its final debate the then health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the bill would have a "significant and historic impact on Scotland's relationship with alcohol" and "kick-start a change in our alcohol culture".

Labour stood against the measure to the end, opting to abstain from voting for or against the legislation.

Royal Jubilation

30 May 2012

The majority of MSPs came together to praise the Queen in a diamond jubilee debate.

First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs he had the "highest praise" for Her Majesty and Labour's Johann Lamont noted that the Queen was the "constant" in a world of change.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the Queen had worked tirelessly to promote ideals throughout the Commonwealth and Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said the "the Queen brings more to public life than people could ever expect".

Image caption The Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations were taken to Scotland earlier this year
Image caption The Queen met well-wishers while on a walkabout in George Square, Glasgow
Image caption Politicians have been unanimous in their praise of the Queen

Legionnaire's outbreak

7 June 2012

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon gave this ministerial statement on the Legionnaire's outbreak in Edinburgh in which she praised Lothian Health Board's response to the outbreak as "absolutely superb".

However, Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie questioned the speed with which affected communities in Edinburgh were given information about what she called "the biggest outbreak in a generation".

Three people died from the disease during the outbreak which began at the end of May. The health crisis was declared officially over on 18 July.

Scottish welfare legislation passed

28 June 2012

MSPs passed the Welfare Reform (Further Provision) (Scotland) Bill unanimously after its final debate.

During the chamber debate, the then health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government "would do everything we can to protect" vulnerable people from the worst impact of the welfare reform from Westminster.

The bill was an enabling one which confers powers on Scottish ministers to make provision via regulations for changes in consequence of the new Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment created under the Welfare Reform Act (UK).

It aims to ensure that devolved policies, such as the provision of free school meals and blue badge parking, will continue to operate in Scotland after changes are made to the UK benefit system.

In closing, the health secretary said she was not prepared to "expose vulnerable people to the risk of not getting their passported benefits".

During the debate, Scottish Labour social justice spokesperson Drew Smith said too much of the changes by the UK government were solely based on a desire to bring down the benefit bill and the "most vulnerable are being punished out of all proportion".

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said there was a need to ensure a few more people were working and a few less were on welfare.

All change

4 September 2012

MSPs returning from the summer recess came back to a new Holyrood timetable and a written warning from Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick on bad behaviour in the chamber.

The parliament would now sit on three as opposed to two days a week.

The change was made to allow MSPs to quiz ministers on "topical issues" and for Holyrood to be more responsive.

And indeed this day saw the first ever topical questions, which featured queries on the future of Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen and the possibility of direct funding for rape crisis centres across Scotland.

Government programme

Also on the first day back Alex Salmond outlined bills to allow an independence referendum, enable same-sex marriage and increase free childcare.

They were among 15 proposed new laws in the legislative programme for the coming year.

Mr Salmond told MSPs in the Scottish Parliament that it was a "historic package of measures" which would pave the way to an independence referendum, on 4 September 2012.

He said: "It will lead to the best childcare provision anywhere in the United Kingdom.

"It uses all of the powers that we have to support jobs, growth and opportunities for all.

"And it paves the way for Scotland's most important decision in the past 300 years."

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said Mr Salmond no longer had anything to offer Scotland, other than "a referendum he continues to dither over".

Cabinet reshuffle

5 September 2012

The first minister carried out his biggest ministerial reshuffle since taking office in 2007.

Mr Salmond's deputy Nicola Sturgeon left her role as health secretary to become infrastructure and capital spending secretary with a particular focus on the upcoming independence referendum scheduled for the autumn of 2014.

The cabinet secretary for Parliamentary Business, Bruce Crawford, who had been negotiating details of the independence referendum with the UK government, retired from cabinet.

Ms Sturgeon was replaced at health by Alex Neil, who had held the post of infrastructure secretary.

Borders MSP Paul Wheelhouse, Dundee MSP Joe Fitzpatrick, Glasgow MSP Humza Yousaf and Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess were all promoted to the government in junior ministerial roles, with the usual good humoured new ministerial appointments speeches made in the chamber on 6 September 2012

The following day, on 7 September 2012, Mr Salmond defended his reshuffle during FMQs, under attack from Labour's Johann Lamont who asked why the first minister had reduced the ministerial role responsible for the economic recovery to a "part-time post" and why he viewed the health portfolio as less important than the referendum.

Mr Salmond hit back saying "every single member of this government is focused on economic recovery in Scotland".

Halls of Broxburn

18 September 2012

On this day Finance Secretary John Swinney said the Scottish government stood ready to provide assistance where it could to "support continuity of employment at Hall's of Broxburn" citing "three interested parties" during topical questions.

However, attempts to save the meat processing plant later failed, after the owners Vion announced a phased closure in October leading to full closure by February 2013, with the loss of 1,700 jobs. Two offers to buy the plant were made last week but Vion rejected them saying neither were viable.

Welfare Reform Committee

18 September 2012

Holyrood's Welfare Reform Committee heard from many moving witnesses, but perhaps none more so than Henry Sherlock.

The blind former health worker gave evidence to the committee saying he had been reduced to begging by the UK welfare reforms.

In a statement read out by the committee clerk, Mr Sherlock, 50, said: "I still rely on family handouts and additional begged support in order to live.

"It truly is a sad reflection of any government that refuses to see the true fear it has put the most vulnerable in our society under.

"In my opinion, it is simple persecution. We did not choose our disabilities."

Edinburgh Agreement

23 October 2012

What should have been a momentous month for Scottish and indeed UK politics quickly came under the shadow of the row over an independent Scotland's status in Europe.

Early in the month Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore agreed a package of measures paving the way for the Edinburgh Agreement to be signed by David Cameron and Alex Salmond on 15 October 2012.

Image caption Alex Salmond and David Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement

Ms Sturgeon then revealed the Scottish government would seek legal advice on whether an independent Scotland would continue to be a member of the European Union, during her Edinburgh Agreement ministerial statement on 23 October 2012.

Ministers had previously gone to court to prevent attempts to reveal whether or not they had sought such advice from law officers.

She earlier stressed the importance of the deal signed by Mr Salmond and Mr Cameron: "The Edinburgh Agreement is a watershed moment in Scotland's Home Rule journey.

"It paves the way for the most important decision our country will make in over 300 years and - crucially - ensures that Scotland's referendum is designed and delivered by this parliament."

Of course the confirmation the Scottish government had sought no specific legal advice on EU membership led to more pressure from opposition parties with Mr Salmond facing accusations of lying over the issue during a BBC interview.

Later that day, during a point of order, raised by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, Mr Salmond vehemently denied the accusations.

The EU row rumbled on and indeed rumbles on.

Empty legislation

31 October 2012

Despite the independence referendum dominating Scottish politics, the day-to-day business of Holyrood continued unabated, with MSPs passing the Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc.) (Scotland) Bill at decision time, after a heated debate.

Drive on drink

1 November 2012

MSPs voted in favour of the motion from Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to lower the drink drive limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood down to 50mg, after a debate in the chamber.

Sorry, sorry, sorry

15 November 2012

College funding, restructuring and student numbers have been issues at the forefront of the Scottish political scene this year and indeed led to the first of a number of apologies.

Alex Salmond said sorry to MSPs for providing incorrect information about Scotland's college budgets, saying they were going up when they were going down.

Mr Salmond told the chamber: "Let me make clear I take full responsibility for what I say in this chamber, therefore I have taken this earliest opportunity to correct the figure."

He said: "I apologise to the chamber for this error."

20 November 2012

Education Secretary Mike Russell also had to apologise for saying college funding would rise, giving a "full and unreserved" apology to MSPs during topical questions.

21 November 2012

Finally, in our litany of apologies comes Labour MSP Michael McMahon, who was suspended from the chamber for one day for shouting "you're out of order" at the Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick, despite his making a quick apology after his outburst.

Leveson Inquiry

4 December 2012

After the long awaited Leveson Report into press regulation Alex Salmond led a debate on the implications of the inquiry for Scotland's press.

The first minister said whatever type of voluntary self-regulation model was devised by the press in the wake of Leveson, it was necessary for the Scottish Parliament to set the criteria by which any new body could be underpinned in Scots law.

Opposition parties questioned whether or not Scotland needed a separate regulator to the rest of the UK and warned against "pre-judging" the outcome of the independent group.

Cross-party talks followed and it was generally agreed to set up an expert group to study how the recommendations of the Leveson Report might apply in Scotland.

Barroso EU row

13 December 2012

Back to Europe, not for the last time, with President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso giving his view in a BBC interview that any newly independent state would have to reapply for EU membership.

More pressure on the Scottish government with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon coming to the chamber to give a ministerial statement on President Barroso's comments, as a form of rebuttal.

The debate continues ... till autumn 2014 at least.

Remploy support

18 December 2012

The fate of Remploy employees, who have lost their job or are facing redundancy, has frequently come up in Holyrood since the UK government withdrew funding earlier this year.

Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing announced that employers who give permanent jobs to redundant Remploy workers would be able to claim £5,000 from the Scottish government, during a ministerial statement on Remploy.

Games' security budget soars

18 December 2012

After lauding the success of the Olympics, Commonwealth Games Minister Shona Robison said lessons from London would be learned and that included on security.

She told the Holyrood chamber that the security budget for the 2014 Commonwealth Games had more than tripled to £90m.

Ms Robison added that the new chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland, Stephen House, would take over "primary responsibility for the delivery of the overall security for the games".

The waiting is over

20 December 2012

Waiting times fiddling in NHS Lothian hit the headlines in March and on the final day of the parliament in 2012 waiting times again dominated political debate.

An investigation into NHS waiting times figures found "no evidence" to back up claims the problem of fiddling was widespread, as Health Secretary Alex Neil told the parliament.

However, Labour branded the entire exercise a whitewash and insisted the "scandal" had deepened.

Hardly the season of goodwill at Holyrood then, but good robust politics nonetheless.