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Christine Grahame

<em>Picture: Walter Baxter</em>

Picture: Walter Baxter

As is always the case, this election will be won and lost in just a few key battleground areas. The swing seats hold the key to the final result, and The Caledonian Mercury will be looking at several of them over the next week. Here are the first five –

Almond Valley
Almond Valley is the sort of seat Labour needs to win if it is to regain power at Holyrood. This used to be Livingston, and it was won in 2007 by the SNP’s Angela Constance with a majority of 870.

Boundary changes have made things even tighter since then – and, according to one assessment, this is now the most marginal constituency in the country, with the SNP holding a notional majority of just four votes.

Ms Constance believes the last four years have consolidated her position and that incumbency will give her the edge over Labour stalwart Lawrence Fitzpatrick.

But, having lost some areas that she knew well – such as Broxburn and Uphall – and gained others with a Labour tradition – such as Fauldhouse and Longridge – the result here is anything but clear.

Also standing: Emma Sykes (Liberal Democrat), Andrew Hardie (Conservative), Neil McIvor (National Front).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Edinburgh Eastern
This battle between two political heavyweights encapsulates the fight for the Scottish government. A high-profile Nationalist is up against a less well-known but solid Labour candidate, and what happens in this seat should give a good indication of what is going to happen across Scotland.

The SNP’s Kenny MacAskill won here in 2007, but boundary changes have since given Labour a notional majority of 545. The Labour candidate is the Reverend Ewan Aitken, Church of Scotland minister and former Labour leader on Edinburgh city council.

Mr MacAskill believes his personal vote – built up over the past four years – will see him through, and he is doing all he can to link Mr Aitken with the unpopular trams debacle.

Also standing: Martin Veart (Liberal Democrat), Cameron Buchanan (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Glasgow Southside
Somehow, the old name of Glasgow Govan carried more romance and appeal than the renamed constituency. Maybe it was the by-elections of 1973 and 1988 – both won by the SNP – but, whatever it is, this is a much-changed seat.

Boundary changes have stripped it of much of Govan including the shipyards, and have brought in Govanhill, the Gorbals and Toryglen.

But a Tory glen it isn’t. This is a straight fight between the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon (who won Govan by 744 votes in 2007) and Labour’s Stephen Curran, a local councillor.

There have been claims of dirty tricks, with SNP sources muttering about claims that Mr Curran’s people have been telling voters they don’t need to worry about Ms Sturgeon being returned to parliament, because she is standing on the regional list and they can get both Mr Curran and Ms Sturgeon to parliament if they back Mr Curran on the constituency vote.

This claim has been denied by Labour, but it underlines how tense and how important this seat is.

Ms Sturgeon is under pressure in what has traditionally been a Labour heartland, but she will be hoping that the national swing to the SNP from Labour will be enough to see her returned again.

Also standing: Kenneth Elder (Liberal Democrat), David Meikle (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP hold.

North East Fife
Normally, the notional 4,500 majority which Iain Smith holds in this rural Fife seat would make this an easy hold for the Liberal Democrats – but these are not normal times.

The battering which the Lib Dems have taken in the polls because of their Westminster coalition deal with the Tories – and their subsequent decisions in government – have made this seat vulnerable to both the SNP and the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems are throwing resources at North East Fife in an attempt to head off the opposition attacks, and Mr Smith is finding on the doorstep that he has yet to build up the sort of personal vote that the local Lib Dem MP, Sir Menzies Campbell, has cultivated.

Sir Menzies would have no trouble holding this seat, but Mr Smith is facing a much harder fight. His majority will be cut – there appears to be no doubt about that – but the three-way battle may play into his hands, with neither the SNP (whose candidate is Rod Campbell) nor the Tories (Miles Briggs) likely to garner enough Lib Dem votes on their own to unseat him.

Also standing: Colin Davidson (Labour), Mike Scott-Hayward (UKIP).

Prediction: Lib Dem hold.

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
The battle for this big Borders seat is between two of Holyrood’s best-known and longest-serving MSPs: Jeremy Purvis for the Liberal Democrats and Christine Grahame of the SNP.

The two have fought each other so many times before that this has the feel of a personal grudge match about it.

Mr Purvis is the sitting MSP, but boundary changes have given the SNP a notional advantage – and, according to one assessment of local government voting patterns, may now have Ms Grahame in front by 1,200 votes.

Mr Purvis faces the added problem of general disillusionment with the Lib Dem coalition in London, and he has been doing his best to emphasise his work in the constituency and move discussions away from English tuition fees and Nick Clegg.

He faces an uphill battle, though, particularly against someone such as Ms Grahame who is very well known here.

Also standing: Ian Miller (Labour), Peter Duncan (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP gain from Lib Dems.

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<em>Picture: Woodley Wonder Works</em>

Picture: Woodley Wonder Works

The nation was flabbergasted to find no mention of the Calman Omission at First Minister’s Questions in parliament this week. The cognoscenti among you will recall that, at a time of great debate about dependence or independence, Calman looked at every constitutional option – er, except independence. Only in Scotland.

Some form of his recommendations are now being granted by Westminster and, soon, Scotland will have control over air-guns and responsibility for raising a third of its pocket-money. Whoop-de-doo.

You’d have thought Elmer Fudd, aka Iain Gray, leader of the Labour & Unionist Party, would have taken the opportunity to get us down on our knees in gratitude for such munificence from London. But, in an inspired move, he decided to bang on about bobbies on the beat, a subject that’s been done to death.

He asked: “Will the First Minister agree that his much-promised 1,000 bobbies on the beat are actually bobbies in the backroom?”

Ecksworth Salmond, the First Minister, said there were record numbers of “pleese” in Scotland: 1,190 more than when the Nats took office, and 1,190 more than promised by Labour at the last election. He said everyone at local authority level welcomed this, “except” – and here he deepened his voice theatrically – “the Labour Party”.

Elmer claimed many of the new bobbies were doing civvie jobs – isn’t that a decision for the copular authorities? – and cited an apparently real-life detective (Lab) being made to retire after 30 years so that cheaper replacements could be brought in. Comrade Fudd seemed to think Eck had made the decision personally. But isn’t 30 years the upper limit of service in the police? As Sherlock Holmes might have put it: “I detect cack here, Watson.”

Mr Fudd continued: “When I was justice minister” – gales of appreciative laughter – “we worked to rid hundreds of police officers from backroom work in order to do their jobs on the street.” Yes, I remember it well. You couldn’t move for bobbies crowding the pavements.

The First Eck cited the Scottish Police Federation’s praise for the increased numbers, and noted that only some local authorities – “the Labour ones” – were thrawn about the whole thing.

The nation’s favourite thrawn cocktail, Annabel Goldie, paid tribute to public service workers, and urged folk to look after elderly neighbours. The Conservative and Unionist leaderene ululated: “This is a time for us all to muck in.” I got a wee warm glow from all this. Forget the party political stuff. The positivity and Clydebank Blitz spirit reflected well on Annabel, whom Eck praised for “turning to the dominant issue this week”.

However, in a shock move, the First Eck added this bombshell announcement: “I don’t like to single out individual newspapers but the Sun‘s double-page spread on sub-zero heroes … is an example that people in this parliament should read.”

Hell’s ringtones, that was taking the spirit of solidarity too far. Mind you, I did like the recent Sun headline about Tommy Sheridan getting rid of his lawyers for the umpteenth time: “Tommy drops his briefs again.” Phnaar-phnaar.

It was titters out for the boy when young Tavish Scott, leader of the Liberal & Unionist Party, asked why other airports were open but Edinburgh was not. Quoth Tavoid: “The First Minister’s Government is pushing Scotland as a winter fun destination” – that’s a joke, right? – “so what will the government do to make sure that Scottish airports have appropriate winter contingency plans?”

Eck made noises about the exceptional conditions, when he should have said: “What de ye want me tae dae? Dig it oot wi a shuffel masel?”

Impish Patrick Harvie (Green) said some public sector employees, who couldn’t make it to work, were being threatened with disciplinary procedures. Eck said if Patrick could give detailed examples, he’d boot said employers up the arse. I am paraphrasing here.

Ian McKee (SNP) wanted to know about government plans for tackling sectarianism. Eck said there’d been progress – eh, how long have I been asleep? – and cited the welcoming of the Pope and the all-faith commemoration of the Reformation.

Dr McKee said the key was to get faith and non-denominational schools to engage in joint activities, “to work and play together, thus forming friendships across the religious divide”. Aye, I’ll have some of what you’re smoking, mate.

Ted Brocklebank (Con), last seen excavating his beak on live television as he sat behind Annabel, said it did little to dowse the flames of sectarianism in football “when chairmen of prominent Scottish clubs go on television to demand the sacking of individual referees”. This was a reference to John Reid, the Celtic chairman and former Labour minister in London who, according to his critics, was happy with gross porkies about weapons of mass destruction but furious about a dozy referee lying about a bad decision.

Eck stuttered uncertainly: “You know, I will shimmy – sidestep – around the requirement to interfere in the internal affairs of the Scottish Football Association.” However, he added boldly: “I believe that, following due process, they have come to the right decision.” This concerned Hugh Dallas, the SFA’s head of referee development, who was developed out the door for passing on an irreverent email about the Pope.

Talking of irreverence, the back-benchers kept coming at FMQs, and this was a good thing, since the nation never sees them otherwise. Christine Grahame (SNP) asked Eck to share her delight at seeing Scottish schoolchildren getting fresh air as they cavorted about in the snow. It’ll be the ruin of them. I spent my entire childhood outdoors and it did me no good whatsoever.

My old friend Margaret Smith (Lib Dem) is another breath of fresh air. Margaret and I have a long-standing disagreement as to whether or not she walks like WPC Ruby Gates out of the old St Trinian’s films. She denies the allegation. At FMQs, she was concerned about the possible closure of a leisure centre in her constituency, and Eck sympathised, while noting that public services were under extreme financial pressure.

Robert Brown (Lib Dem) is another girning Geordie in the Mike Rumbles mould, though at least Mike’s head is normal. With his combover held down by a brick, Robert wanted to know where Eck stood on the question of a single Scottish police force. Eck said various options were under review.

Richard Baker (Lab), the member for Toytown, was keen on a single force. But Eck questioned his expertise, recalling how the posturing clot had issued a statement referring to the seven police force areas in Scotland. Eck: “Of course, there are eight police areas in Scotland. It may be useful to know how many there are before he considers abolishing them all.”

SNP logoA dozen SNP MSPs face the prospect of losing their seats at Holyrood next May after SNP members effectively de-selected them.

The results of the SNP’s regional list rankings were published yesterday, giving a good indication of which candidates will secure seats in the parliament on the top-up lists next May.

A high place on each regional list is usually good enough to ensure election to the Scottish Parliament and a low ranking virtually guarantees elimination – unless the candidate can win a constituency instead.

As a result of this year’s rankings, several MSPs are now ranked so low on the lists that they face an almost impossible task in winning back their places in the parliament and several more face a struggle to get back.
Those most under threat are: Bill Kidd and Ann McLaughlin on the Glasgow list, Christina McKelvie and John Wilson on the Central Scotland list, Stuart McMillan on the West of Scotland list, Bill Wilson in the Lothians.

Despite the poor rankings for these backbench MSPs, there was good news for the party leadership as members backed all the party’s senior ministers and none – including the education secretary, Mike Russell, who had been considered under threat – were dumped down the lists.

This does represent a genuine turn-around from the past. When the list rankings were done ahead of the 2003 election, activists conspired to de-select high-profile MSPs Andrew Wilson and Mr Russell – and gave Nicola Sturgeon a fight to regain her seat.

Both Mr Wilson and Mr Russell lost their seats as a result, although Ms Sturgeon battled through to win again.
As a result, the then leader, John Swinney, changed the ranking system, introducing a one-member, one-vote system which gave a fairer reflection of the views of party members. This replaced the old system which saw local party associations mandate a delegate to vote a certain way.

The results of this year’s rankings do seem to show that Mr Swinney’s reforms appear to be working. The Finance Secretary himself was placed top of the of the Mid Scotland and Fife list. Alex Salmond is top of the North East list, Ms Sturgeon is top of the Glasgow list, Kenny MacAskill is top of the Lothians list, Fergus Ewing is number one in the Highlands and Islands (with Mr Russell in an eminently winnable second place) and Alex Neil is on top of the Central list.

So, although Mr Salmond may lose some backbenchers – not all of whom have been that effective in parliament – he will retain the core of his ministerial team, for which he can think Mr Swinney.

The SNP business convener, Bruce Crawford, said: “The SNP already has an experienced and talented group of MSPs. The elections next year provide an opportunity to build on that strength, with new talent from local government, women who will bring valuable experience to Holyrood, and candidates that reflect Scottish society as a whole.”

But Labour’s elections co-ordinator John Park said: “The release of this list is not only deeply embarrassing for the SNP but it is a humiliation for Alex Salmond that his own party members have effectively deselected so many of his sitting team. “It shows how Alex Salmond is losing the confidence of his own party.”

The full SNP regional list rankings are as follows (asterisks represent the number of MSPs elected from each list in 2007, giving a rough indication of who might win a seat in 2011).

It should be stressed though, that while this gives a rough indication of the number of MSPs who might get elected from the regional lists, it does not show who they might be. This is because some of those near the top of the lists are likely to win constituency seats, so they will not need their place on the list, allowing someone further down to be elected.

For instance, on the Highlands and Islands list, the top two places are taken by Fergus Ewing and Mr Russell. The SNP may get two MSPs elected from that list but both Mr Ewing and Mr Russell may already have secured their places from constituency elections, giving those two places to Dave Thompson and Rob Gibson.

CENTRAL SCOTLAND
1. Alex Neil *
2. Michael Matheson *
3. Jamie Hepburn *
4. Linda Fabiani *
5. Richard Lyle *
6. Christina McKelvie
7. Angus MacDonald
8. John Wilson
9. Clare Adamson

GLASGOW
1. Nicola Sturgeon *
2. Humza Yousaf *
3. Bob Doris *
4. Sandra White *
5. Sid Khan
6. James Dornan
7. Bill Kidd
8. Anne McLaughlin
9. Chris Stephens
10. Jim McGuigan
11. Mags Park

HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS
1. Fergus Ewing *
2. Michael Russell *
3. Dave Thompson
4. Rob Gibson
5. John Finnie
6. Jean Urquhart
7. Mike MacKenzie
8. Mhairi Will
9. Drew Hendry
10. Richard Laird
11. Bren Gormley

LOTHIANS
1. Kenny MacAskill *
2. Fiona Hyslop *
3. Shirley-Anne Somerville *
4. Angela Constance
5. George Kerevan
6. Colin Beattie
7. Alex Orr
8. Bill Wilson
9. Gordon MacDonald
10. Calum Cashley
11. Jim Eadie
12. Alasdair Rankin
13. Colin Keir

MID SCOTLAND AND FIFE
1. John Swinney *
2. Bruce Crawford
3. Roseanna Cunningham
4. Annabelle Ewing
5. Keith Brown
6. Douglas Chapman
7. Bill Walker
8. Ewan Dow
9. John Beare
10. Rod Campbell
11. Alison Lindsay
12. David Torrance
13. Douglas Thomson
14. Ian Chisholm
15. George Kay

NORTH EAST SCOTLAND
1. Alex Salmond *
2. Brian Adam *
3. Nigel Don
4. Maureen Watt
5. Mark McDonald
6. Christian Allard
7. Dennis Robertson

SOUTH OF SCOTLAND
1. Christine Grahame *
2. Aileen Campbell *
3. Adam Ingram *
4. Joan McAlpine *
5. Aileen McLeod *
6. Paul Wheelhouse
7. Chic Brodie
8. Dave Berry
9. Aileen Orr

WEST OF SCOTLAND
1. Stewart Maxwell *
2. Kenneth Gibson *
3. Derek MacKay *
4. Gil Paterson *
5. Fiona McLeod
6. Stuart McMillan
7. Osama Saeed
8. Andy Doig
9. Iain Robertson
10. Iain White
11. Ronnie McColl

Under the Scotland Act parties can submit a maximum of 12 names in each region.  In regions where more than 12 candidates have sought election only the first 12 will appear on the ballot paper.

Candidates were ranked by one member one vote through regional ballots using the Single transferable vote system.  Ballots were counted by Electoral Reform Services.

Rannoch Moor. <em>Picture:Pip Rolls</em>

Rannoch Moor. Picture:Pip Rolls

Trust and confidence in Scotland’s out-of-hours healthcare service have been lost, and must be rebuilt, according to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee.

In a report into rural out-of-hours care, the committee says there is “a substantial degree of work to be done” to rebuild confidence – and that this will only be achieved when the system can be depended on to work properly.

Committee convenor Christine Grahame said: “Out of hours services must be fully joined up – and they are not. NHS boards should be given the responsibility for devising and delivering new and tailored arrangements for services which are sustainable and meet the needs of individual communities.”

The committee’s investigation was sparked by a petition which referred to out-of-hours services in Kinloch Rannoch, a relatively remote community which falls under the remit of NHS Tayside.

Campaigners criticised the health board after it was decided that it was not necessary to have a resident GP on-call 24-hours-a-day in Kinloch Rannoch.

The committee’s report does not make specific recommendations on the Kinloch Rannoch situation, but notes that other areas of the country have managed to make good arrangements when there has been “community buy-in”.

The committee does, however, express concern that, in the current economic climate, “and as a consequence of the inflexibility of the GP contract” that cost pressures may come to bear in health boards’ decisions about how to manage out-of-hours care – “potentially to the detriment of these services”.

“The committee would therefore welcome a drive across the country towards finding solutions that deliver top quality services in challenging situations without depending on expensive methods such as buying in GP time at an hourly, ad-hoc rate.”

Margo MacDonald

Margo MacDonald

Mike Rumbles, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, was accused today of making an unprecedented attack on the partiality of a Holyrood committee convener in the escalating row over the right-to-die issue.

Caledonian Mercury has seen a private email written by Mr Rumbles to members of the parliamentary bureau, claiming that the SNP convener of the Health Committee, Christine Grahame, is biased in favour of Margo MacDonald’s so-called Right-to-Die bill.

In the confidential email, Mr Rumbles urged the parliamentary bureau not to send the controversial bill to the health committee because Ms Grahame is a “major advocate of Margo’s bill”.

Mr Rumbles wrote: “It is in my view essential that the Convener of the Committee we send this bill to should not be seen to be a main advocate on either side of the argument.”

In support of his case, Mr Rumbles points out that Ms Grahame is a signatory to Ms MacDonald’s bill and, as such, supports it.

However, while a signatory to the bill, Ms Grahame has always made it clear that what she wants to see is a debate on the issue. She has insisted she has not taken a decision on the right-to-die issue itself.

In response to an approach by Caledonian Mercury, senior Nationalists warned that Mr Rumbles’ action was both “unprecedented and unnecessary” and that the Liberal Democrat MSP should never have questioned the partiality of a committee convener on such a moral issue.

“There are many ways in which this could have been dealt with by the Health Committee without taking the bill away from the committee altogether,” one senior source said. “This really is a most extraordinary attack.”

The email by Mr Rumbles represents the latest spat in what is becoming a nasty row at Holyrood over Ms MacDonald’s bill.

The End of Life Assistance Bill is an extremely sensitive and contentious proposal and, if passed into law, would allow assisted suicide in Scotland.

But it has already become the subject of party political trickery at Holyrood. One of the reasons why the main opposition parties backed Mr Rumbles’s idea to set up an “ad hoc” committee to consider the bill was because this would deprive the SNP of the convenership of the next “ad hoc” committee, which is due to be set up to consider the Scottish Government’s independence referendum bill.

The issue of which committee will consider the right-to-die bill will be debated in the chamber this afternoon but, with the opposition parties set to vote for it going to an ‘ad hoc’ committee, the immediate fate of the bill appears to be set.

Mr Rumbles does have a point about Ms Grahame being a signatory to Ms MacDonald’s bill and he has every right to express his reservations about it. However, the Nationalists are right too. It does appear to be unprecedented for any MSP to question the partiality of a committee convener in this way.

And the publication of this email will only add to the sense at Holyrood that all manner of tricks and manoeuvres are being used to make sure this controversial bill is kept away from such a mainstream committee as the Health Committee – for a variety of reasons.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “It’s disappointing that the SNP are trying to play politics with such a sensitive issue.

“We’ve been clear right from the start that this bill needs its own committee. It covers more than health – the bill has significant moral and ethical issues to consider.

“For the first time, all MSPs will have a free vote on this bill. That’s why it’s important that the convenor of the committee which considers this bill is not an advocate either for or against the bill. Christine Graeme is a signatory to the Bill.”

Terry Pratchett. <em>Picture: Ausir</em>

Terry Pratchett. Picture: Ausir

I was surprised to see that Margo McDonald’s assisted suicide bill would not be going to the Health Committee. Today, reading my colleague’s take on the “opposition trickery” which brought it about, I’m less surprised, but just as disappointed.

Personally, I doubt that the bill will pass, or at least not at this time. But I think it’s a hugely important debate to have and the Health Committee is the right place to have it.

The committee will very probably – as convenor Christine Grahame has pointed out – be handling proposed legislation about palliative care. The two issues are closely linked; many of the same witnesses will be called to give evidence – surely it makes sense for them both to go to the committee with responsibility for health.

I don’t really buy the arguments about this Health Committee being particularly equipped to deal with the bill, because two members (Ian McKee and Richard Simpson) are former GPs and because the convenor herself has a law background. Furthermore, the point, surely, of parliamentary democracy is that the committee members are there to represent voters; to listen to a weigh the evidence in the way that we would, were we in their place, rather than coming at it as “experts” themselves.

I’m not criticising these three members, by the way – I’m just trying to make the point that the bill should go to the Health Committee, regardless of which MSPs sit on it. Mary Scanlon, for example, might not be a doctor or a lawyer, but makes just as valuable a contribution as a committee member.

This bill is a tremendous opportunity to have discussions on issues which are too often swept away as being too difficult – how many families actually sit down and talk to each other about what they would want to happen in the event of one of them being so ill that they did not want to live? I bet the very publication of the proposals has already led to a bit more openness than before.

And we have at least two hugely charismatic and eloquent people prepared to stand up and talk about why they believe assisted suicide should happen. Whether we agree with them or not, we should welcome the intervention of Terry Pratchett, who has said he would be a test case for assisted suicide legislation. Surely also Margo MacDonald, who has been open about her own circumstances and feelings on the subject, demands admiration and not a little respect?

The fact is that this is an important bill; it falls squarely in the remit of health; there’s a hugely valuable debate to be had, and it’s a bloomin’ shame that it’s being overshadowed by party-politicking.

Margo MacDonald

Margo MacDonald

If anyone ever wondered what was more important to our politicians, life and death or party politics, they got their answer in the Scottish Parliament today.

On the surface, the decision by the main opposition parties to set up a special committee to look into assisted suicide seems a thoughtful and considerate move. But it was nothing of the sort.

In doing so, they have actually used parliamentary trickery to deal a major blow to the SNP’s independence referendum plans.

Confused? You should be. This is what happened.

The Scottish Parliament sets up “ad hoc” committees on a fairly regular basis to look at issues which can’t be handled by the main subject committees.

The convenership of these “ad hoc” committees rotates, so the Conservatives get one, then the Lib Dems get the next and so on. Each party gets a go, in turn.

The parliamentary business managers had all worked out that the Scottish Government’s high-profile and hugely important independence referendum bill is due to be published soon, and when it is, it was due to be convened by an SNP MSP. It was the SNP’s turn.

But then along came Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance Bill. This was due to go to the Health Committee.

Today, though, the three main opposition parties came together in the business bureau to force the creation of a new “ad hoc” committee to consider Ms MacDonald’s bill.

The effect of this move is to push Ms MacDonald’s bill out into a new committee, where it may or not get the right sort of scrutiny but that’s not really the point, the point is the damaging effect it will have on the SNP’s referendum bill .

Because a new “ad hoc” committee has been established, it means that it will no longer be an SNP MSP who convenes the next “ad hoc” committee, which was due to be on the referendum bill. The SNP will have had its turn before the referendum bill arrives.

Instead, it will now be Labour’s turn to chair the next “ad hoc” committee. The job of convening the referendum bill “ad hoc” committee will go to a Labour MSP. That MSP is expected to use every tactic at his or her disposal to delay, impede and obstruct the SNP’s referendum bill.

What this amounts to is a typical piece of parliamentary politics. The opposition parties have contrived to strip the SNP of a key committee convenership.

All fair in love, war and politics, you might think except that it starts to look very, very petty when the substance of Ms MacDonald’s bill is considered.

Ms MacDonald wants to open up the whole, contentious and sensitive issue of assisted suicide for proper parliamentary debate – and proper national debate too – yet here we have the three main opposition parties playing politics with it and shunting it off to a new “ad hoc” committee just to score a few points over the Nats.

It is usual, it is typical, but it is so unedifying. Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems are no doubt rubbing their hands in delight at the small success they have secured today over the Scottish Government and the Nats are complaining and cursing in equal measure.

By all accounts Alex Salmond is really quite angry about this.

But they should all stop and consider how this appears out there in the real world where people want a proper debate about assisted suicide and, more than that, they want their democratic representatives to discuss it properly, seriously and in the absence of party politics too.

The ramifications of the decision to establish the new “ad hoc”committee will rumble on for some time.

Already, Christine Grahame the SNP convener of the Health Committee has complained about the decision of the parliamentary business bureau. That is both unsurprising and unlikely to change matters.

As for Ms MacDonald, she described the move as “a piece of nonsense”. And she added: “When I asked why was it not going to the health committee, I was told it’s got morality in it.

“Every time we cast a vote in here there should be morality in it – so that’s a spurious reason.”