Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:34 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 12:34 pm, 28th November 2001

I put on record at the outset that, in moving amendment S1M-2488.4, I bear no animus against Mike Watson as an individual; my objection is to the manner in which he has been appointed and the portfolio with which he has been provided. Many of the points that I wish to make have been made by others. The creation of the portfolio of the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport has demeaned the Executive and the Parliament. It reflects the worst of the municipal fiefdoms that Labour possesses in the west of Scotland. In coming in as First Minister and making this appointment, Jack McConnell reflects what has gone on in local government and what has brought it into disrepute. What he has done justifies the need for proportional representation in local government. What we have seen is simply on-going cronyism.

The appointment of a Cabinet is a matter of balance. The Cabinet has to reflect not simply one's friends—clearly a First Minister has a right to ensure that those who are closest to him are brought on board—but the wishes and aims of the political party. Most important, given that we are talking about the Government of our nation, the Cabinet has to reflect the talents that are available. If we take a broad view, we see that the appointments are not based on picking the right people to deal with the needs and wants of the Scottish economy, Scottish tourism, culture, art or sports; they are a matter of Jack McConnell rewarding his friends for supporting him this time, as they supported him last time. That is simply not good enough.

The First Minister talked about a minister for what he pronounced as "Gaylick". I hope that Mike Watson—if my amendment is unsuccessful and he is appointed—has more knowledge of Gaelic than the First Minister has. We had a minister who dealt with Gaelic. I had my criticisms of and run-ins with Mr Alasdair Morrison, but at least he had some knowledge of Gaelic and was conscious that it was a living language that we hope to preserve. Jack McConnell has appointed someone who, if he follows his First Minister—this may relate to their friendship—will consider his brief to be the language that is spoken on the other side of the Irish sea. We will be classifying Gaelic with classical Greek, as opposed to trying to support a language that may be spoken only by a small and diminishing number of our people, but that we are trying to retain and support. That is part of the Parliament's ethos.

The part of the previous portfolio that covered the Highlands and Islands has simply disappeared. Where is the representation of that area if we bring the Lanarkshire Labour group into the First Minister's private camp?

Another issue is tourism. The minister who previously had responsibility for tourism, Wendy Alexander, failed. The tourism industry clearly thought so, given the disgruntled representations and anecdotal evidence. Neither I nor anyone in my party went as far as to describe her as "an extremely stupid woman". That was said by someone who is close to the First Minister—perhaps even by someone who is now in the Cabinet. There are considerable difficulties. We support the concept of a dedicated tourism minister. The problem before was that the ministers had far too much on their plates.

How do we tie in tourism with transport? Where are the conduit and links if we are to bring in the necessary flights, whether from the United States or elsewhere? What is the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport supposed to do when the VisitScotland board already contains many friends of the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning? How does the role of the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport tie in with the appointment of a new chief executive and chairman of VisitScotland? What will happen when the new minister finds that he has no influence over two aspects that are fundamental to tourism in Scotland—transport and training?

We do not need a minister who will simply go round having cups of coffee, visiting bed-and-breakfast establishments and patting people on the back. We need a minister who has the power and clout to deliver what is necessary—bringing in foreign visitors. Given that Americans are deeply fond of titles, never mind our castles, it might be thought that, if the minister goes around as Lord Watson rather than as Mike Watson, that will boost the number of tourists in Scotland from North America. I think not. We need to improve the ways in which visitors from the United States can fly to Scotland and to make that cheaper, through sterling exchange rates.

It is for those reasons that I move amendment S1M-2488.4, to leave out "and Mike Watson".