Scotland politics

How unruly are members of the Scottish Parliament?

Holyrood chamber
Image caption Veteran politician George Reid believes "sitting in the round" makes for a less combative atmosphere

The politicians are back at Holyrood, with a warning ringing in their ears from the presiding officer.

Tricia Marwick has written to MSPs urging them to "conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner".

But rewind to 1999, when the parliament first met, and back then academics and commentators talked about the possibility of a "new politics".

Political veteran George Reid - a former Holyrood presiding officer - can remember some feisty moments inside the chambers where political decision makers sit.

He says: "In 1976, I remember Michael Heseltine seizing the mace.

"I've seen people in the Rada in the Ukraine - leaping out of the podium, everybody punching and kicking. It's pretty tame at Holyrood compared to that."

Mr Reid believes the approach at Holyrood has been different.

He explains: "People sit in the round.

"They don't sit two swords-lengths across the chamber as they do at Westminster and, in consequence, I think there has probably been more respect and courtesy at Holyrood than there has been at Westminster and certainly more than in other parliaments overseas."

But not everyone sees things exactly that way.

Alan Cochrane of the Daily Telegraph has covered politics both at Westminster and Holyrood and argues that both parliaments are adversarial, part of the passion of politics.

He said: "It was a kind of high-flown ideal of the founding fathers of the Scottish Parliament, if I could use that phrase to describe them.

"That it wouldn't be as adversarial as Westminster, but of course it is."

Missing or late

Cochrane approves of some of the changes which Ms Marwick is bringing in.

On the attendance of debates, she has said: "As a courtesy to your fellow members, if you wish to participate in a debate, you should attend the whole debate but, as a minimum, members should be present during the opening and closing speeches and should remain in the chamber to hear the two speeches following their contribution."

Some MSPs have been reprimanded in the past for missing, or turning up late to, parliamentary business.

Image caption First Minister's Questions can be a feisty affair

Cochrane reflected: "It's not supposed to be a place like the Senate in Washington, where Senators essentially read their speeches into the record.

"There's no real pretence at debate there. It's supposed to be a debating chamber, but I mean you've got to hear the other side or you can't have a debate."

The Scottish Parliament has had its fair share of drama. For instance in June 2005, when four Scottish Socialist MSPs were suspended from parliament for a month for disrupting business over issues surrounding protesting at the G8 summit.

Mr Reid, who was in the chair that day, recalled: "I said then that they couldn't be on the barricades and on the benches at the same time.

"Because you're breaching the most fundamental rule of democracy, you're denying other members the right to speak, to represent their constituents, to challenge the executive."

But one of those on the other side of that incident tells things rather differently.

The former SSP MSP, Rosie Kane, said she went into parliament to make it "accessible".

Of that day she said the feeling was that: "We have to protest in the place we're not allowed to protest to make this point.

"It was this whole idea that First Minister's Questions is somehow the be all and end all of politics."

"What's really important in politics is democracy and we were fighting for democracy, which was about to be obstructed."

Being suspended from parliament might seem like small beer though when you compare it to what happened in the South Korean parliament in 2009. Opposition politicians clashed with security guards who stormed a sit-in protest in parliament.

There have also been scuffles in many other countries, including Russia, the Ukraine, Bolivia and Italy.

Of the Italian incident last October, the BBC's David Willey in Rome said: "Tempers got very frayed and fighting broke out.

"The ushers had to restrain some people, I think a few MPs got cuts and bruises.

"Regularly, about once a year, there's a fight breaks out in the Italian parliament. It's just part of Mediterranean life I think. On the whole, the Italian public is not really that surprised."

'Fight their corner'

In the United States, the Democratic and Republican party conventions show that American politics is certainly not short of theatre, but elsewhere it can be a more sedate affair.

Until a few months ago, Sarah Oates was a professor at Glasgow University, now she is teaching journalism at the University of Maryland. She has visited the Scottish Parliament, Westminster, the Russian Duma and Congress.

She said: "The name of the game in Britain is confrontation on the floor of the assembly.

"Scottish citizens, British citizens really expect their parliamentarians to really fight their corner on the floor of a parliament and don't think it's particularly realistic to expect everything to be nice.

"It's more decorous, it's more ritualistic in the American parliament. In America, the contentious politics is taking place in paid political advertising. So, it's a lot of people making a lot of accusations, but they're never in the same room together."

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