Scotland politics

A year in the Scottish Parliament

wide view of parliament chamber
Image caption The Scottish Parliament travels towards the end of 2011 - marking another busy year

The first majority Scottish government, a changing of the old opposition guard and a march towards new laws have done their bit to make this Holyrood year a distinctive one.

However, some things have remained the same - First Minister's Questions on Thursday at noon and committee sessions scrutinising parliamentary bills.

As part of the BBC Democracy Live team, I've watched and listened to debates, discussions and votes.

Here, is my selection of highlights from Holyrood 2011.

Click on the in-line links to view on-demand video.

Budget passed

The then minority Scottish government's £33bn budget was passed on 9 February 2011, after Finance Secretary John Swinney's series of last-minute concessions to opponents.

Fiscal contortions performed by Mr Swinney included accepting demands from the Lib Dems and Tories to boost support for youth employment, private sector projects and housing.

Labour refused to support the plans.

Double jeopardy

The Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011 consigned the controversial double jeopardy law to the legal scrap-heap allowing exemptions to the centuries-old principle that no one should be tried twice for the same crime.

First female

After the seismic, game changing majority win by the SNP in the Holyrood election, the next "first" was the election of the Mid Fife and Glenrothes MSP Tricia Marwick as the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament on 11 May 2011.

Mrs Marwick defeated Labour's Hugh Henry by 73 votes to 55 in the second ballot of the election.

Out-going presiding officer Alex Fergusson said the election of a member of the party of government to the post presented "fresh challenges".

Mrs Marwick became the first woman to hold the post of presiding officer and the first member of a majority government to sit in the chair.

In an emotional acceptance speech, she added: "As presiding officer, I will be fair to all members. I will always act in the interests of the Scots parliament."

She of course resigned from the SNP to take up the politically neutral post.

Salmond Slam

In a surprise to no-one by this stage in the year, MSPs re-elected Alex Salmond as Scotland's first minister on 18 May.

Mr Salmond's election was not contested and it was the first time a candidate had stood unopposed for the role.

A total of 68 MSPs voted in favour of him as first minister, while 57 abstained, a margin of victory to be seen frequently in the coming months.

Sectarianism bill delayed

Despite that clear majority in the chamber, the first minister told MSPs the controversial new anti-sectarian legislation would be delayed by six months during first minister's questions on 23 June 2011.

There had been widespread criticism of the speed the legislation was being pushed through in order to be ready for the new football season.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill aims to stamp out abusive behaviour from football fans whether they are watching matches in a stadium, in the pub or commenting online.

Tuition fees for rest of UK

Education Secretary Mike Russell revealed Scottish universities would be allowed to charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland tuition fees of up to £9,000, in a statement on 29 June 2011.

Mr Russell said: "Scottish universities must remain the best option and not the cheapest option."

Scottish Labour's then education spokesperson Ken Macintosh said the plan would create "the ludicrous position of setting higher fees for students in Scotland than England".

Supreme row

Much of the time in the committees and Holyrood chamber this year has been spent scrutinising the Scotland Bill, and the last week of work before the summer recess was no different.

Under the guise of a Scotland Bill debate, the Scottish government brought up the thorny issue of the Supreme Court's involvement with the Scottish legal system.

On 30 June, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill urged the Scottish Parliament to ensure the centuries-old independence of Scotland's legal system was not eroded by the Supreme Court in London.

Mr MacAskill opened the debate at Holyrood on the court's role and its impact on Scots law following an expert review.

The issue of the Supreme Court and indeed all the proposals for the Scotland Bill continue to dominate our political debate.

'Not for the faint-hearted'

The Queen officially opened the fourth session of the Scottish Parliament on Friday 1 July.

This was the last act in the chamber before the summer recess.

Her Majesty told MSPs: "No-one would ever argue that Scottish politics is the business of the meek, the passive or the faint-hearted. As a close observer of every stage of this parliament's life, I remain confident that you will manage to discharge your duty diligently and competently."

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond also addressed Her Majesty and the chamber.

He said: "This is a country increasingly comfortable in its own skin. We aspire to be more successful, more dynamic, fairer and greener... whatever constitutional path that the people of Scotland choose - and it is their choice to make - we will aspire to be, in your words, firm friends and equal partners."

'Snob's Law'

An academic told MSPs that the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill was potentially a "snob's law" targeting rowdy football fans.

Dr Stuart Waiton from the University of Abertay was giving evidence to a Holyrood committee on Tuesday 6 September 2011 and has been one of the many colourful witnesses to express his view on the bill.

Legislative programme

First Minister Alex Salmond set out his government's legislative programme including bills to create a single police force, introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol and tackle bigotry at football matches, in a statement on 7 September 2011.

There were a total of 15 new bills.

Crystal balls

FMQs can throw up a smorgosbord of topics, but who could have foretold Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray line of attack on 8 September 2011.

Perhaps Gypsy Amalia, as it was her goodself and the fortune of one Alex Salmond that dominated this knock about session.

So sorry

Mr Salmond apologised to MSPs for misleading the Scottish Parliament, on 27 October 2011.

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser had called on the first minister to make an emergency statement to parliament during a point of order.

Mr Fraser said Mr Salmond had said referendum expert Dr Matt Qvortrup had endorsed the SNP government's plans for a two question vote on Scotland's future as "fair, reasonable and clear", during first minister's questions.

The former Scottish Conservative deputy leader said the comment had in fact been written by an advisor to the first minister.

Mr Salmond corrected his comments, saying he had used information at Holyrood which was "wrong".

Goldie oldies

Despite being Annabel Goldie's last first minister's questions with Alex Salmond, hard politics were to the forefront.

But there was still time for one of Scottish politics' special relationships to go out with a flourish, with pleasantries for the outgoing Scottish Conservative leader being reciprocated with the soubriquet of "Prime Minister" for Mr Salmond.

An amazing year for the first minister, but not quite PM.

Hello Ruth

New Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was welcomed to the fray of FMQs by Alex Salmond who wished her a happy birthday on 10 November 2011, but immediately followed up with a jab suggesting her hobby of kickboxing seemed to have become endemic among her colleagues.

A less than welcoming reference to the aftermath of Ms Davidson's victory.

Let battle commence.

Inside, outside

A strange day at Holyrood where there was politics inside and outside the chamber with MSPs in both locations due to the strike action over public sector pension reform.

For those in the chamber the debate was between the SNP on one side and the Conservatives and Lib Dems on the other.

Outside on the picket lines around the country Labour and Green MSPs chose to boycott the debate.

Anti-bigotry goal

Controversial laws to crack down on religious sectarian hate crime were pushed through at the Scottish Parliament despite last-ditch appeals from the opposition in Holyrood for the legislation to be scrapped.

The SNP used its majority at Holyrood to pass the laws aiming to combat religious sectarian hate crime with 64 SNP MSPs backing it and 57 voting against.

Last battle

And so farewell to Iain Gray as one of the protagonists of first minister's questions, Alex Salmond bid him adieu from the weekly political theatre saying he would be a "hard act to follow".

Mr Gray thanked his political foe for his "kind and gracious words" but left the stage saying: "I am going to miss this so I hope he'll forgive me if I disagree with him!."

Not for the first time, but indeed for the last.

No consent

Holyrood historically refused to rubber-stamp controversial benefit changes on the last day of the parliament before Christmas.

In total, 100 MSPs backed the call for Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon to do so in a warning shot across Westminster's bows.

The move will not stop the Welfare Reform Bill being passed at Westminster.

But it will lead to the Scottish Parliament agreeing its own legislation dealing with areas where the bill affects devolved issues.

Gray's heir

It was the last first minister's questions of the year and the first for Johann Lamont as Scottish Labour leader.

There was some festive spirit in the air but it was soon down to serious business.

Ms Lamont pressed for an independent inquiry into how Scotland's most vulnerable children were being affected by the "budget choices" of the SNP government in her first joust with Alex Salmond.

There will be many more political battles to come next year.

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