Ahead of Thursday’s general election, Hamish Morrison has the latest on what’s coming up in Holyrood this week.
UK General Election
The general election is at the top of the political agenda this week. The Conservatives still have the lead, with Labour somewhat narrowing the gap last week, following the televised debates and interviews. There is still a lot to play for in Scotland. With such a large number of marginal seats and voters facing two constitutional questions, there is little certainty for Scottish seats this election. The SNP is projected to retake eight additional seats across Scotland and pose a serious worry to some increasingly precarious-looking Scottish Tories. During the campaign, the SNP has focused its attention on Brexit and the need for Scotland to have the chance to choose its own future, including a close alignment with the European Union, to win over voters in remain-voting Conservative seats. Meanwhile, Labour has tried to deflect away from constitutional issues, preferring to instead direct discussions towards climate change and public services. The polls suggest this may not have got through to voters. Come Friday, there could be more pandas in Scotland than Labour MPs, with only Ian Murray looking safe.
Continuing controversies around health, education and policing have thwarted the SNP’s hopes of a quiet period before the election. Jeane Freeman will deliver a statement on the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Oversight Board tomorrow afternoon, following reports at the start of the month that another person at died at the hospital. Later that day, John Swinney will defend the Government’s record on education in a statement responding to cross-party criticism following the publication of the PISA 2018 results. The Scottish Parliament traditionally tries to keep the noise down during UK general elections, but it is hard to imagine much silence from the opposition on Tuesday afternoon.
First Minister’s Questions
First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday is sure to be a similarly charged affair. A day before voters cast their ballots, opposition parties will be keen to score points against the SNP on health, education, policing and prisons. Nicola Sturgeon will be buoyed with some confidence by the SNP’s predicted popularity with voters, but there can be no doubt she will face tough scrutiny from Labour and Tory members looking to land a few punches before the election.
Code of Conduct
There will be a debate on the Standards, Procedures & Public Appointments Committee’s report on changes to MSPs’ Code of Conduct on Tuesday. In the report, the Committee recommended more specific prohibitions against bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment. MSPs will debate the changes, informed by the Joint Working Group’s report on sexual harassment and sexist behaviour. A minority of female Holyrood staff responded to a survey saying they had experienced sexual harassment or similar.
Also on Tuesday, the Economy, Energy & Fair Work Committee is taking evidence from representative bodies for business on bank closures. In an increasingly cashless society, two Westminster Committees have found bank closures hit poor and rural communities hardest. The Treasury Committee’s report from May forcefully argued for the Government to take a stronger line in securing access to cash, recommending a legal duty of care for banks to their customers. Access to cash has been a topic of discussion since the Scottish Affairs Committee considered the issue in November and it is expected MSPs will take up much of the threads of these two inquiries.