With much of Scotland in semi-lockdown, there’s no live entertainment for around four million of us. No theatres, no cinemas, no concert halls, no basement gigs. But there is Scottish Parliament TV
Not a packed house – Covid requirements leave many chamber seats unfilled, and no-one in the public gallery. But nicely filmed, streamed live to your living room and (perhaps even better) archived for later viewing with sub titles @ScotParl is worth watching. It’s an eye-opener to an often unreported world.
Unfortunately, Scottish media attention is mostly fixed on the First Minister’s daily briefing, which means much else goes unheard and unseen. So this weekend’s Sceptical ‘podcast pick’ chooses extracts from last week’s parliamentary debates on testing and the Covid crisis in the hospitality industry – plus a fascinating insight into what business really thinks of the Scottish Government support thanks to the latest Fraser of Allander podcast.
Test and Protect…whom?
First: testing. With Greater Glasgow and points west on the brink of full lockdown, this is an acutely sensitive political issue. A debate on testing (Wednesday 11 November) ended with Jackie Baillie’s ‘urgent question’ to health secretary Jeane Freeman: ‘To ask the Scottish Government when it was informed that errors had been made in the publicly reported contact tracing performance of Test and Protect.’
Unexpectedly, Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh, began with a courteous rebuke to the cabinet secretary: He would have preferred to take Ms Baillie’s urgent question before the Labour party debate, earlier that day, on testing for all health and social care workers. But he’d gathered from the Scottish Government that wasn’t possible because of the cabinet secretary’s time commitments …so he was surprised to see the cabinet secretary giving an interview to journalists in the Garden lobby instead.
“Can I restate my strong expectation that ministers making themselves available to answer parliamentary questions in the chamber should take precedence over media interviews or briefings” [applause]
What followed is a combative performance by a politician under media spotlight. Jeane Freeman has to defend Scotland’s Test and Protect after the Sun newspaper broke its exclusive story about coding errors in contact tracing. Her appeal to partisan applause would not look out of place in the adversarial House of Commons. Holyrood’s debating chamber is supposedly designed to encourage consensus.
As Jackie Baillie (Labour’s deputy leader) presses for answers on ‘truly staggering errors’, the health secretary repeatedly insists the error has been corrected without significant damage, the Scottish system is not only functioning properly it more than meets the WHO standards. “The facts are the facts are the facts” she reiterates emphatically to applause in a clip shared on Twitter the following day when The Ferret exclusive breaks: “Scottish health secretary wanted to stop freedom of information during Covid-19.”
Fear of mass unemployment
Second: Scotland’s hospitality industry in crisis – an interesting cross-party debate arises from the Labour motion posed by Labour leader Richard Leonard calling for Additional Support for Scotland’s Tourism and Hospitality Sectors During the COVID-19 Pandemic
It’s a chance, says Leonard – with cross-party support – for parliament to come in on the side of businesses under devastating pressure. The government has issued rule after confusing rule with no clear exit strategy and no evidence for their decisions as new restrictions force closures. ‘Businesses can’t be turned on and off like a tap.’
Different speakers from different parties add to evidence of suffering, ask for unallocated spending to be redirected where it is most needed and urge government to involve business and unions in decisions.
SNP cabinet secretary for rural economy and connectivity, Fergus Ewing, says he recognises the scale of devastation. He doubts anyone has spent more time reaching out to those impacted. The Scottish Government understands…he knows their support has been truly appreciated by business.
And businesses say?
Cut to latest Fraser of Allander podcast where Mairi Spowage, Emma Congreave and James Black discuss findings of the Scottish Business Monitor. This 18 minute FAI podcast deserves careful listening but in the context of the Scottish parliament debate, the Sceptical listener might pay particular attention at around 11.10.
“It’s worth saying that on the measure of understanding the challenges that businesses face, a significant proportion of business gave the Scottish government a rating of zero out of ten.
“So there is obviously a lot of feeling out there…and that was quite a stark finding for us”
Which opens an interesting question, says Marie Spowage, for the forthcoming Scottish budget. A lot of Scottish businesses will be looking to see what plans the Scottish government has for supporting recovery.
Questions. Questions. A mature democracy must pay more attention to what happens in its parliament. Testing time for @ScotParl.