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This Week in 60 seconds

Lawrie Scott-McFarlane

Parliament returns from recess this week and already has a fun-packed line-up of regular business scheduled. There are ministerial statements for every sitting day of this week covering sign language, Common Agricultural Policy payments and the Scottish Government’s STEM strategy. It’s not impossible or unknown for the Scottish Government to schedule more of these at the last minute, either.

In terms of regular business, the Justice Committee will be diving in first with a meeting on the repeal of the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act. The Committee will be hearing from representatives of minority and women’s groups this week. While some of the organisations involved, including the ethnic minority rights group BEMIS and the anti-sectarian organisation Sacro, have expressed support for repealing the Act, there are others, such as the Women’s Convention, who support the law on the basis that it fills an important legislative gap. Stonewall Scotland has also expressed concerns that repealing it could send a “worrying message” that prejudice is acceptable at football matches. The meeting is therefore likely to be less consensual than previous sessions, where the Committee heard from supporters’ associations who had campaigned strongly for repeal.

The debate over fracking will continue to rage on following this month’s announcement that the technology would be banned in Scotland. The Scottish Government has scheduled a debate for Tuesday, in line with its promise that MSPs would get the chance to vote on the issue. We are likely to hear Conservative supporters of the industry quoting the SNP’s former Deputy Leader, Jim Sillars, who recently called for a “rethink” of the ban on the basis that fracking could create jobs and help to alleviate fuel poverty. On the other hand, MSPs from Labour, Green, and the Liberal Democrats oppose the technology but are wary of the legal mechanisms being used and have suggested that a ban enacted through planning and environmental regulations is not sufficiently robust. Ultimately, given the substantial Parliamentary and public opposition to the practice, it’s impossible to see Tuesday’s vote being anything other than a foregone conclusion. In this context, the debate itself is likely to provide more heat than light.

On Wednesday, MSPs will debate Brexit negotiations and Scotland’s place within the process. The debate follows a recent session of the Joint Ministerial Committee, attended by UK and devolved ministers. According to the joint communique issued after the meeting, the Scottish Government has agreed to join new common UK legal frameworks post-Brexit, but only if the devolution settlement is respected. Specifically, the UK Government confirmed that it would comply with the Sewel Convention, that it would allow at least as much policy flexibility as there is currently, and that there would be a “significant increase in decision-making powers” for the devolved administrations. The debate is likely to be framed around these issues, as well as broader concerns relating to immigration, EU citizens’ rights and the prospect of a “no deal” scenario, which is being seen as increasingly likely.

Last up this week, but not least, is the Scottish Youth Parliament. The Parliament will have its autumn sitting on Friday and will focus on young people’s rights. MSYPs will be given the opportunity to engage in joint committee sessions, debate motions and hear from keynote speakers.

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