Margo MacDonald: Parliament as not given place it deserves

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, centre, at Holyrood ' where launch should have been. Picture: Getty
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, centre, at Holyrood ' where launch should have been. Picture: Getty
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I HOPE I don’t sound like a party-pooper in the midst of all the excitement at the publication of the White Paper, but the First Minister and his deputy were out of order when they launched the most important document that Holyrood has seen so far.

This “magnum opus” should have first of all been presented to Parliament. When the ceremonial mace, representing the authority of the MSPs elected to govern and represent their best interests, by the people of Scotland, is placed on top of its glass case, Parliament rules. The Scottish Parliament in session is the foremost forum for debate, scrutiny of Bills and general information. It can only retain that position if the people elected to serve in it understand that they are the temporary stewards of Parliament’s status, and never demote its role in the process of making legislation.

Parliament is not a stage. Although visitors seated in the gallery sometimes witness performances that wouldn’t be out of place in the King’s Theatre pantomime, I’ve no doubt that even such an important paper as this one will generate a few laughs. But, bottom line? Parliament is a serious place, worthy of our respect.

By launching its White Paper in Glasgow, merely handing it to MSPs without ceremony, the Government gave the impression of treating Holyrood as a second choice venue to use as a backdrop to its announcement. The decision to do so was either careless or arrogant.

An acknowledgement of a no doubt unintended slight to Parliament is in order.

The hard work will start after Yes vote

I congratulated the Government on the White Paper. It’s not perfect and it reads too much like the SNP manifesto for the election after we’ve voted Yes to independence. But it does retrieve things a bit by stating clearly that other parties might be chosen to govern.

Having said that, it gives the impression that every wish will be able to be accomplished easily. Personally, I thought Malcolm Chisholm introduced a whiff of reality when he cautioned the Government against giving the impression that everything would be settled easily or quickly.

When I had the chance to put a question to the Deputy First Minister I picked up from where the MSP for Leith left off. My concern was that after a Yes vote people who are on the negative side of the referendum campaign will become available to build the new Scotland. I reminded Nicola Sturgeon that the experience and knowledge represented by Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown would be invaluable assets to any negotiating team. They and others will be needed as, contrary to Nicola’s oft-stated belief, the rest of the UK won’t roll over and allow Scotland to take the easy way out of the UK.

And the same is true of the interface between Scotland and several of the countries in the EU. Some of the newer countries either just in or waiting to become totally integrated are resentful of what they see as the luckier part of the EU. As there is one legal opinion that says every single member has to agree to Scotland’s becoming a member state in her own right, there has to be some doubt about whether Scotland will be able to carry on without interruption as a full member of the EU.

Even if there are deals upon deals allowing Scotland to sit at the top table, it could take months. And what if part of the deal is that Scotland has to accept smaller quotas of fish? At what point does the Scottish Government say it’s not worth it, and walk away? And will it have a plan B in readiness?

However, the White Paper itself is not too bad. I suggested to a few from the Government side that they should produce addendums as points they haven’t thought of arise when people have time to read the White Paper.

Pity it wasn’t launched in Parliament.

And size isn’t everything …

I HAVE little sympathy with the people who complain about the size of the White Paper. Once they’ve read it, of course, if they’re just the teeniest bit creative, they’ll think of something to do with it. They could place it casually, but prominently, on a low coffee table and buy few scatter cushions and perhaps a rug to tone with it. I’ll use mine to wedge the study window open.