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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, September 30, 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Community Land Ownership, Portfolio Question Time, Point of Order, Autumn and Winter Vaccination Programme, Urgent Question, Brexit Impact on Supply Chain and Labour Market, Points of Order, Decision Time


Point of Order

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

Yesterday, in the chamber, during the debate on the drug deaths crisis, Scottish National Party MSP Jim Fairlie suggested that the Scottish Conservatives were

“cynically using the death toll that drugs are taking in our communities to attack the Scottish Government”.—[Official Report, 29 September 2021; c 73.]

I suggest that that kind of language goes beyond the robust debate that we want in the chamber. That is offensive to those members from all parties who, over the past few years, have stood up, represented our communities and debated the issue with a view to finding solutions.

If Mr Fairlie is suggesting that Opposition parties should not use their debating time to highlight a crisis that has made Scotland the drug deaths capital of Europe and the First Minister concede that the Scottish Government has taken its eye off the ball, I am not sure what we are supposed to use our time for. It is because of the drug deaths rate that we continually raise the matter—members from all political parties recognise that and work constructively to help tackle that shame.

I recognise that Mr Fairlie is one of the newer members of the Scottish Parliament, and I put on record the fact that I respect him and work with him in committee. Perhaps he will reflect on the use of inflammatory language.

That brings me to someone who should know better. The SNP chief whip stated that Conservatives were playing

“political games while people’s live are at stake”—[Official Report, 29 September 2021; c 87.]

and that, apparently, it was “a damned disgrace”. He may be relishing his time in the spotlight, but, since the start of the pandemic, 18 months ago, the Scottish Government has consistently reassured members that it would bring important decisions to the Parliament for approval and scrutiny. Asking the Scottish Government to adhere to its commitments should not result in the Government’s chief whip suggesting that we are putting lives at stake. It is because people’s lives are at stake that we continue to press for that information.

Presiding Officer, you know that I am an advocate of robust—and heated—debate in the chamber, but I have to say that the language that is creeping into our debates is deteriorating. The First Minister has suggested that we need to consider our behaviour and language. Suggesting that anyone is using the deaths of others or that we are putting lives at risk for questioning the Scottish Government is unparliamentary and goes too far. I seek your opinion on whether parliamentary protocol has been breached.

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

I thank Mr Whittle for his point of order. He is entirely correct in saying that, although parliamentary debates can be robust, they must also be conducted in terms that demonstrate courtesy and respect for other members. The Deputy Presiding Officers and I will always intervene when we feel that language has been used that is not acceptable. MSPs have a leadership role in their communities and across Scotland, and the way that we conduct debate in the Parliament should set a positive example to people across the country. I ask all members to reflect on that in relation to their conduct in the chamber.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Brian Whittle referred several times to the Minister for Parliamentary Business as the chief whip, which is incorrect.

Thank you, Ms Mackay. Your comment is on the record.

We will now move on to the next item of business. I ask members to please leave the chamber quietly.