Ministers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:46 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 12:46 pm, 28th November 2001

I begin by echoing the Presiding Officer's words, although not in the hope of getting any job that may be vacant at the moment. It is right and proper that Parliament should scrutinise ministerial appointments. We should not be a rubber-stamp for the First Minister's decision. There is a case for ministerial appointments having to go before the subject committees for ratification, so that the ministers can explain their policies and how those policies will differ from those of their predecessors. I do not know whether Jack McConnell is beginning to rethink his appointments, given the support of Mr Sheridan for most of them, but we will no doubt find out in due course.

I shall talk about two posts in particular. We are now on the fifth transport minister since Labour came to power in 1997. The first was Malcolm Chisholm, who resigned and proved that there is life after death. Then came Henry McLeish, who has gone to the back benches by a circuitous route, and Calum MacDonald, who has gone to the back benches in another place. Now that Sarah Boyack has been sent to the back benches, too, Wendy Alexander will be the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning. Wendy Alexander was apparently too busy at the previous reshuffle to add the environment to her portfolio of enterprise and lifelong learning, but she now seems to have the time to add the transport brief to that portfolio. That is in the same week as a Government report said that Britain has the worst transport system in western Europe. To sort out the situation in Scotland, we need someone who will give the matter their full attention and not add it to two other tasks that were apparently a full-time job only a year ago.

Angus MacKay impressed the Finance Committee with his skill. He had the skill to explain away the record of the Executive and to defend the indefensible. For example, in explaining the Executive's £719 million underspend, he convinced himself, if not the committee, that the surplus was not the result of inefficiency, spin—making announcements when there was no possibility of spending the money that was allocated in those announcements—or building up a surplus to bribe the electorate at the 2003 elections. He also convinced himself that not being able to implement a budget that he decided on only 12 months before was a virtue. With a talent such as that, he should have gone far instead of making the short journey that he has just made.

Jack McConnell listed Andy Kerr's qualifications, but missed one out—the fact that he was his campaign manager. I am not sure whether that is much of a qualification, as there was no campaign. It was the kind of election of which the Politburo would have been proud. Nevertheless, running a campaign and ensuring that there is no competition is quite a skill, and we may see more such skills in the weeks to come.

The Scottish Parliament has suffered badly over the past few weeks. That has not been through its own fault; problems have been generated over the years at Westminster and in the Labour one-party states throughout Scotland. However, many members of the public think that we have not measured up. At the weekend, the First Minister had the chance to begin to change that and to restore the reputation of the Parliament. He has failed to do so. David McLetchie will secretly be pleased about that, but the Parliament and Scotland are poorer for it.