Scotland politics

Holyrood as it happened: September - December 2015

It's been a busy few months at Holyrood with many diverse debates, contentious committees and feisty first minister's questions.

Image copyright Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Image caption Scottish Parliament

Here is our take on the parliamentary business that made the headlines since MSPs returned from the Summer.

1. The Programme for Government: Back to School

In an echo of Tony Blair's mantra of "education, education, education" in 2007, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon put tackling the educational attainment gap firmly in the forefront of her programme for government on 1 September 2015.

The first minister said the new tests would be brought in for pupils in primaries one, four and seven and S3.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Sturgeon pledged to close the attainment gap between Scotland's wealthiest and most deprived pupils

Opposition party leaders warned that the move could lead to a return to school league tables.

Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, and the local authority group Cosla also warned that the information from the national tests could be used to compile league tables.

However Ms Sturgeon said she did not want to create "crude league tables" but that more information needed to be made available about performance in primary and lower secondary school in order to close the attainment gap between rich and poor.

The Scottish government planned to introduce eight new bills for the 2015-16 session of the Scottish Parliament.

2. Local police call centre closure delayed following A9 tragedy

It has been a troubled year for Police Scotland, with the chief constable of Police Scotland announcing he was to stand down from his post at the start of December, before MSPs had returned from the Summer recess.

Image caption Sir Stephen became the first chief constable of Police Scotland when the new single force was created in April 2013

Sir Stephen House, 57, had been under severe pressure over the three days it took his officers to respond to a fatal crash on the M9.

He was also criticised over armed officers being put on routine patrol and his force's policies on stopping and searching juveniles.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson told the Scottish Parliament, on 3 September 2015, he would delay plans to close local police call centres, after an an inquiry into the deaths of two people in a car accident on the M9 in July.

Image caption John Yuill and Lamara Bell were found in the car three days after the crash was first reported

Mr Matheson also announced that £1.4m of new money would be committed to taking on 70 to 75 new call handlers, and to keeping the Aberdeen and Inverness control rooms open for longer than originally planned.

3. End of an era: Longannet Power Station to close

In August, it was announced that Scotland's last coal-fired power station, Longannet in Fife, was to close on 31 March next year.

Image copyright Scottish Power
Image caption Longannet is one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in Europe

Its owner, Scottish Power, said the high cost of connecting to the grid was to blame.

The company also announced it is abandoning plans to build a new gas-fired power station at Cockenzie in East Lothian.

Longannet, which opened in 1972, is one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in Europe.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing told MSPs on 3 September 2015 Scotland that the government fought hard to win a different outcome for Longannet while Westminster did not lift a finger.

Image caption Energy Minister Fergus Ewing

Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said the closure of Longannet was a "shock and a body blow", while her counterpart in the Scottish Conservatives called on the minister to attract investors to Fife given that Longannet will close.

4. Responding to the Global Refugee Crisis

On 15 September International Development Minister Humza Yousaf told the chamber he had been moved to tears twice in the preceding days, first by the images of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy found drowned on a beach in Turkey.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The boy's lifeless body was captured in a series of images released by a Turkish news agency

The second time were tears of joy at the vigil of solidarity in Glasgow's George Square.

Image caption People turned out in Glasgow's George Square to offer their support to the refugees
Image copyright Scottish Government
Image caption Scotland Welcomes Refugees

The minister was leading a debate entitled 'Responding to the Global Refugee Crisis'.

It was one of the most consensual debates at Holryood in recent months.

Since then 100 Syrian refugees have landed at Glasgow Airport and have beenresettled by local authorities across Scotland.

5. MSPs approve human trafficking law

MSPs unanimously approved new legislation designed to tackle human trafficking in Scotland on 1 October 2015.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill establishes human trafficking as a specific offence.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Scottish government's want a new law to stop human trafficking

It also increases the punishment for offenders to a maximum life sentence and ensures more support for victims.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson told the Scottish Parliament that it should be "very proud" of passing the legislation.

He said it would demonstrate to those who want to "peddle in the misery of human trafficking" that they are not welcome in Scotland.

6. A less consensual debate on Trident renewal

MSPs at Holyrood voted by 96 to 17 for a motion calling on the UK government to drop plans to renew Trident nuclear weapons, on 3 November 2015.

Infrastructure Secretary Keith Brown criticised the billions earmarked to replace the weapons programme, calling it an called it an "abomination" and he questioned why the money could not be spent to offset welfare cuts.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Plans are being made to renew Trident nuclear weapons which are based at Faslane on the Clyde

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie was the only Labour member to vote against the call to reject renewal.

The politician, whose constituency includes Faslane naval base which houses Trident, said: "Faslane is the single biggest site employer in Scotland. More than a quarter of West Dunbartonshire's full-time workforce are employed there in good-quality well-paid jobs.

Conservative MSP John Lamont told the chamber that Labour was "muddled" on the issue.

7. Moving member's debate on the future of Scotland's steel industry

Scottish Labour MSP John Pentland led a member's debate on the future of the Scottish steel industry on Wednesday 4 November following the news that TATA steel was to close plants in Cambuslang and Motherwell.

The Motherwell and Wishaw representative welcomed the creation of the Scottish Steel Task Force, and said that all avenues should be explored to prevent the closure of the plants.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Workers at the Tata Steel plant in Motherwell were told it was closing with the loss of 225 jobs

Steelworkers from Clydebridge and Dalzell were present in the public gallery and were welcomed by a number of MSPs who urged the Scottish government to find a solution.

Business Minister Fergus Ewing says the Scottish government would try "every conceivable way" to help the Steel industry continue in Scotland.

Tory MSP Margaret Mitchell said it would be worth looking at areas where new contracts may be won such as flood defences.

8. Scotland's future social security system debated

The Welfare Reform Committee led a debate on the future deliver of social security in Scotland on Thursday 12 November.

Committee Convenor Hugh Henry said the parliament would have to set up a new system of social security and welfare, one of the biggest challenges Holyrood has faced.

Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess said the government wants to take a fairer approach and this was an opportunity to create a social security service more suited to the needs of Scotland.

Image caption Scotland will require a new social security system

She added the "hated and pernicious bedroom tax will be abolished".

Labour MSP Alex Rowley called for an anti-poverty strategy in Scotland.

The new social security system required for Scotland was seen as "a huge opportunity" to get the language right around the issue.

9. Bridge of sighs

Holyrood's opposition parties called for a an inquiry into the closure of the Forth Road Bridge, as Transport Minister Derek Mackay addressed the issue on 8 December 2015.

Labour's Alex Rowley and the Conservative's Murdo Fraser said key questions, including about maintenance of the structure, needed answering.

The minister stated that the defect occurred in the few weeks leading up to the closure.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The bridge has been closed to all traffic since 4 December, with the Scottish government hopeful of reopening it early in January

Questions were raised if cancelled repair works in 2010 would have prevented the fault.

This has led to an ongoing political spat about what the transport minister did or did not says about the fault on different days:

Image copyright PA
Image caption Derek Mackay with bridge engineers

What the transport minister did say.

The Forth Road Bridge closure, and the severe disruption it is causing to commuters and businesses, dominated first minister's questions on 10 December 2015.

The Infrastructure Committee is to examine options for a "focused inquiry" into the issues leading to the closure of the bridge, which Mr Mackay said he welcomed. UPDATe

Either way the political row looks set to rumble in to the New Year, when it is hoped the bridge will reopen.

10. Plans to overhaul FAIs passed

MSPs debated and voted on plans to overhaul the fatal accident inquiry system on the 10 December.

Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse led this debate and paid tribute to Lord Cullen who carried out a review of the Scottish FAI system in 2008 publishing his recommendations the following year,

Opposition MSPs claimed the legislation had been inadequate for a long time and that the bill missed an opportunity to radically change it.

Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson failed in a bid to have the bill amended to include access to legal aid for some families who are pursuing an FAI.