Scotland politics

Scotland's summer in Holyrood questions

Chamber Image copyright PA
Image caption MSPs had a busy summer, posing hundreds of questions of the government

Scotland's MSPs did not have a particularly relaxing summer, lodging hundreds of motions and questions at Holyrood during the summer recess. BBC Scotland's Philip Sim trawled through them to find out who was busiest and what was on the agenda.

In a busy season of political intrigue following the Brexit vote and the appointment of a new prime minister, Holyrood's MSPs lodged 1,562 parliamentary questions and motions while supposedly in recess - up by a quarter on summer 2015.

Looking through the records, you can actually chart the events of Scotland's summer through the submissions of its MSPs, from the EU referendum to the Rio Olympics.

Who was busiest?

Taking away members who don't tend to ask parliamentary questions, such as ministers - who answer them - and the presiding officer, the average MSP lodged more than 17 questions and motions over the summer.

Minus one procedural motion from the first minister, the SNP's backbench MSPs asked 409 questions, averaging 10 each - the lowest of any party.

Somewhat bizarrely the Scottish Conservatives, newly installed as the largest party of opposition, also asked 409 questions - but had fewer MSPs to do so, and so averaged 13.2 questions each.

Newly elected Tory Miles Briggs had the busiest summer by some distance, asking 132 questions - more than some entire parties. It is not known if any of his presumably exhausted staff remain on speaking terms with him.

Labour's 23 representatives meanwhile asked 450 questions, averaging 19.5 each, while the six Greens lodged 90, averaging 15 each.

But it was the Scottish Lib Dems who had by far the busiest summer. Although they only have five MSPs, the Lib Dems asked 203 questions - an average of 40.6 per member.

It wasn't just the back benches and opposition members who were kept busy with these questions of course - the government's ministers had to spend their summer answering them, although their deadline for doing so is extended during summer.

But what were members actually asking about?

Image caption Brexit was a hot topic of discussion for MSPs over the summer recess

Political intrigue

The UK's vote to leave the European Union was the biggest story of the summer, and this was reflected at Holyrood.

A total of 44 questions and motions were put forward mentioning the European Union, with nine more mentioning "Brexit" specifically. Perhaps unsurprisingly given that Holyrood voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain prior to the referendum, most of these were voicing concern about the impact of the vote and what it could mean for Scotland.

The change of occupant at 10 Downing Street did not escape notice either, with a motion lodged to pay tribute to outgoing PM David Cameron.

All of the Tory MSPs signed up to John Lamont's motion, which listed the achievements of Mr Cameron's term, including "143,000 more people in work", new powers for Holyrood and city deals for Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh. The motion said it would be right to "put political differences aside" and pay tribute to Mr Cameron - a call which was not heeded by the other parties.

The very same day, new Tory member Annie Wells put forward a motion welcoming Mr Cameron's replacement, Theresa May. Her motion said parliament should congratulate Ms May on her appointment, noting "the significance of this for women's equality in the UK and further afield" - echoing a Tweet by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

This attempt at a conciliatory tone also fell on deaf ears, with only Tory MSPs signing their support.

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Media captionMagnificent Murray takes gold

Sporting summer

Politics aside, it was also a summer of sport, with the European football championships followed up by the Rio Olympics.

This was ripe territory for politicians, who are always keen to laud the achievements of athletes hailing from their constituencies.

A total of 23 motions were lodged mentioning football, including one from qualified referee Douglas Ross.

A further 19 followed mentioning the Olympics - including one faintly cheeky effort from Alexander Burnett urging support for "all GB athletes regardless of where they were born in the UK".

There were motions congratulating a series of medal-winners, while Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton put forward one calling for the planned celebration at Heriot Watt University to be expanded.

On a somewhat more political note, Tory Jackson Carlaw called for the role of former PM John Major to be recognised, crediting him with some success for establishing the National Lottery and the Big Lottery Fund, which supports athletes.

Also focusing on the Big Lottery Fund, SNP representative Stuart McMillan called on the UK government to repay £425m it borrowed from the fund for infrastructure costs for the 2012 London games.

And three motions were lodged congratulating tennis star Andy Murray, both on his Wimbledon victory - that one fittingly put forward by former athlete Brian Whittle - and on his Olympic gold medal.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Holyrood politics remained high on the agenda alongside wider matters like Brexit

Domestic matters

Besides all of this, there was still plenty of room for domestic politics to intrude.

There was a flurry of questions based on the government's named person scheme in July, after parts of the system, were ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.

Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott and Tory Liz Smith raised questions about staff training costs and legal advice for the scheme. Meanwhile, childcare minister Mark McDonald cited it himself while answering a query from Labour's Monica Lennon on provisions to support youngsters affected by bereavement,

Opposition parties also spotted a chance to make hay with the GERS figures which illustrated Scotland's £15bn deficit. Tory Graham Simpson and Labour's Neil Bibby both asked about the deficit - with both questions selected to be heard in the chamber this week.

And a more procedural motion from government business manager Joe Fitzpatrick was the result of another summer story, as a series of ministerial aides were forced to swap committee jobs.

Ms Sturgeon decided to change rules which had allowed aides to sit on committees which scrutinise the work of their bosses, after opposition parties slammed this as a conflict of interest - of course, via a slew of parliamentary questions. This meant various aides had to swap committees, effectively to get away from their ministers.

And the first minister also lodged one motion of her own - to make Mike Russell her minister with responsibility for Brexit negotiations with the UK government.

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