As luck has it I chose the Public Petitions committee meeting for my latest outing to the Scottish Parliament. So Celina and I sat in Room 4 listening to petitions of the day – more bobbies on the Strathclyde beat, better swimming pools for Scottish kids – while in Room 1 the Equal Opportunities committee discussed the social impact of pornography. I must admit, for a moment I regretted my choice and I was hoping Celina didn’t feel cheated of a good debate. Not at all, she reassured me later, “I don’t like pornography”.
There were probably some entertaining moments during the meeting which brought together Feminists against Censorship with academics from Scottish Universities. Plus a discussion about Prostitution in Public Places. Even so, I am still glad we saw at work one of the most innovative aspects of the Scottish Parliament. A good choice after all for the Opening Doors shadow scheme I am helping to run which aims to bring minorities into the democratic process.
Unlike that nonsense on the Downing Street website, the public petitions process in the Scottish Parliament allows real people to bring real concerns to a committee of MSPs who can refer them on for further discussion. It requires citizens to bring a case for which evidence is sought and considered. Sometimes that can lead to changes in law – at the very least (even if the petition never gets beyond the first committee meeting) it means the issue is discussed in front of politicians, civil servants and a small selection of the public interested enough to book a ticket for the committee meeting.
So although it doesn’t seem all that sexy, we hear how the cross-party committee has sought the opinions of experts and interested parties about the need for speed restrictions on Loch Lomond and the impact of jetskis on Portobello beach as well as safeguards to protect vulnerable people from ‘surreptitious medication’. Some of the discussion is, how shall I put it, a tad tedious. But for the newcomer to the committee room there is always the tecky stuff to admire: voice activated microphones also activate the CCTV and captions on the screen so those of us on the public seats can be sure who is talking (if not always what they are saying).
And there is something about sitting only a few inches away from the elected politicians which renders them eminently human. I am impressed by the detailed arguments of Jackie Baillie (Labour Dumbarton) and I have great sympathy for Sandra White (SNP Glasgow) who suffers a CRAFT moment during a discussion of the dangers of sleep disorders. Surely a minor problem, suggests John Scott (Tory Ayr). Not at all, says Ms White, who had been disturbed to discover that this was a problem which could affect bus drivers and…words fail her. She waves her hands to conjure something from the air.
“Come on, you know what I mean. To do with airports, planes…”
“No, no, that’s not it.” impatiently now
(I know the answer, and the situation too, but members of the public are asked to keep quiet)
“Air traffic control?” at last someone else gets it.
“Yes,” she beams, “thank you team!”
They agree to keep the petition open. Anything which causes excessive daytime sleepiness in the wrong places is obviously a serious matter. So, altogether worth the effort of booking a seat in the committee room. The other advantage is the wonderful view of Arthur’s Seat and the rolling lawns outside the window which turn out to be the living roof tops of this strange but heart warming building.
And CRAFT? Can’t remember a fucking thing.