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Are you sitting comfortably? Checking in on Session Five

Cara McLean

A month has passed since the election so how are the Session Five MSPs settling in to the Holyrood Chamber?

The first 45-minute session of FMQs took place last week. There was no sign of heated debate during last week’s exchanges, and certainly no need for Order! to be called from the new PO’s bench – we’ll see if the trial period leading up to recess is long enough for behaviours to slip but for now a lack of bite is in evidence. If the aim is to reduce the adversarial nature that Holyrood always sought to avoid, the First Minister’s comment that she lacks expertise in building bridges (albeit in response to questioning on the delay to the Queensferry Crossing) may be something to address.

With new PO Ken Macintosh calling for a move away from tribal divisions and less theatrics, not just in FMQs, there has been evidence so far of less predictable voting patterns. With certain Labour MSPs voting against party lines on the EU and Named Person motions, allegiances could be said to be looking more issue driven. Certainly in the absence of a majority in the Chamber, Decision Time has become a more interesting prospect as non-Government motions and amendments come increasingly into play. This means we’ve had a Government motion on the need for environmental protection turned into support for an outright ban on fracking (albeit by 32 to 29 after SNP MSPs abstained) and more predictably, strong support for a motion backing the UK case to remain in the EU (106 to 8). There have, however, been a couple of teething issues, including Maurice Corry finding himself among those voting against the motion to remain in the EU, apparently by accident.

There have also been a few smiles raised in the Chamber. From the PO congratulating catering staff on their election and the Deputy PO getting her towel down for the best seat at FMQs, to Colin Smyth going all out for transparency by declaring his season ticket at Queen of the South, the new session has opened with space for joviality. And of course, following on from his fun and frolics during the campaign, Willie Rennie continues to leave room for the lighter side of life.

We still await the first Committee meetings but memberships and, formalities aside, Convenerships are now set so it shouldn’t be too long before all business is really up and running at Holyrood. The loss of SNP majority should go some way in alleviating the previous session's concerns as to the watering down of lines of questioning and reporting but anticipated reductions in the number of members hasn’t played out quite as expected (11 MSPs on some, none of whom will be keen to sit out of questioning). Negotiations on Committee makeup proved complex, with the PO calling for a paper from each party on what they wanted before discussions began but ultimately fruitful, now we wait to see how they are in action.

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