Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:16 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 12:16 pm, 28th November 2001

Yesterday was the day of the short dirks; it was not a day for Scotland and its leadership. It was a signal of weakness rather than strength. Either the Executive has been failing significantly or those who were in the right camp are being rewarded.

It is particularly sad that Patricia Ferguson has chosen the Executive over the Parliament because, as Deputy Presiding Officer, she played an important role as an ambassador for the Parliament. I have witnessed her efforts and commend her on her record. However, in accepting this appointment she is a gamekeeper turned poacher. It is a classic example of inside knowledge being deployed to the advantage of a third party. Some may see that as a wise or clever move, but others have observed the way in which the Executive has used the position of Minister for Parliament to stultify and stunt the Parliament. We groan with suspicion that the appointment is more about control freakery than anything else.

Jack McConnell talked about how he wants Patricia Ferguson to serve the Parliament, but if we have learned anything from yesterday's appointments it is what a centralised control freak Jack McConnell is. The issue is whether Patricia Ferguson will serve the Executive or the Parliament. I suspect that the whole point of her appointment is that she should serve the Executive.

We have seen an exhibition of cronyism and of the Labour party promoting its own people before the Scottish people. The Executive is scrambling around, discovering its briefs, when it should be serving the people of Scotland. Twice in recent months the Government has been paralysed by the actions of the Labour party and by its internal machinations, connections and cronyism. That happened initially with the Henry McLeish debacle, then with Mr McConnell's inability to command the respect of his former Cabinet colleagues and his need to shore up his power base within Labour party circles.

Scotland needs a First Minister who can rise above the Labour party bickering that is strangling Scotland. Scotland needs to breathe fresh air, untainted by the corrosive smell of the Labour in-fighting that dominates so much of Scottish political life. Either Patricia Ferguson's nomination is creative or it is a failure of government. There are two charges there. I challenge whoever wants to be minister responsible for Parliament to open up the Parliament, broaden the range and depth of debates and, rather than close the Parliament down, broaden what the Parliament can do. Indeed, I challenge anybody who wants to be First Minister to give opportunities to back benchers. That is a great challenge for Patricia Ferguson.

She should consider the range of back benchers and the opportunity that she has to give them more time and effort. We will have to keep those back benchers busy because otherwise they will be at her back, challenging her from within. Never mind what the Labour party has done internally, that would be dangerous for Scotland. [Interruption.]