Scotland politics

What's on at Holyrood? P1 testing and BTP merger

Nicola Sturgeon with school pupils Image copyright PA
Image caption The government may be facing defeat over P1 testing this week

For the first week in a while, Holyrood's agenda looks to be relatively Brexit-free as MSPs seek to drill down into issues like the British Transport Police, bank branch closures and violence reduction.

The main event will be on Wednesday afternoon as the Scottish Conservatives bring forward a motion calling for the scrapping of the controversial P1 tests.

The Scottish government has insisted they are in line with the play-based curriculum for the age group and the assessments simply allow teachers to get a handle on student progress.

Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems all support getting rid of tests for four and five year olds, meaning the government is facing a defeat (assuming everyone turns up to vote).

Education Secretary John Swinney will attempt to convince one or two opposition MSPs to back the government, or at least abstain, and has even arranged a drop-in demonstration session.

In the debate, he will likely highlight that the Scottish Tories included tests for P1 in their 2016 manifesto.

But what about the rest of this week?

Tuesday - bank closures and policing

The economy committee will lead a debate on bank branch closures after highlighting how communities and local businesses had been left feeling "abandoned" in a recent report.

Image caption RBS has closed 70% of its branches in Scotland since 2010

Key asks from this report were for the UK government to investigate the possibility of putting a universal banking provision in place and also for the access to banking standard to be replaced with a statutory model.

There is unlikely to be much disagreement in this debate and instead banks will get a battering as MSPs highlight how closures have impacted their communities.

After that, SNP MSP Bill Kidd will use his member's debate to mark the UN International Day of Peace.

Image copyright British Transport Police
Image caption The government has already had to delay the introduction of the merger, which was due to take place in April.

In the morning, Holyrood Live will be watching the Justice Committee which:

  • will first undertake some post-legislative scrutiny of the Act which saw the merger of police forces into Police Scotland
  • second will hear from Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf on the integration of the British Transport Police with Police Scotland, which has been momentarily halted

Elsewhere, the health committee continues its evidence sessions on the safe staffing bill, this week hearing from care providers.

Wednesday - education, education, education

In addition to the clash over P1 testing, the education committee will be discussing the 2018 exam diet, curriculum and attainment trends on Wednesday morning.

The session will focus on subject choice and the National 4s, topics which both the Scottish Conservatives and Labour have raised in the chamber in recent months.

Professor Jim Scott - who authored a paper expressing concerns about the implementation of the new senior phase of the curriculum for excellence - will be attending.

Meanwhile, the rural economy committee will continue discussions on the Transport Bill with public transport experts and the local government committee considers amendments to the Planning Bill.

In the afternoon, transport, infrastructure and connectivity ministers, and then justice ministers and law officers, will face portfolio questions.

The day will be rounded off with Tory MSP Donald Cameron marking ten years of BBC ALBA.

Thursday - violence reduction

After the weekly excitement of FMQs, Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur will lead the lunchtime member's business on marine energy.

The Orkney MSP is highlighting the growth potential for the sector, as long as both the UK and Scottish government's work to support the sector.

In the afternoon, MSPs will debate progress and future priorities for violence reduction.

Image copyright Getty Images

Perhaps most interesting of all for this debate will be discussion on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill - also dubbed the smacking ban - which hopes to make corporal punishment of children illegal.

The programme for government included a commitment to enshrine all elements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which covers protecting children from "all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse".

There are questions over whether this does indeed extend to parents smacking their children, and indeed some MSPs are not convinced about the bill, instead arguing it would criminalise parents for "reasonable chastisement".

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