Trump planning application Speech in the Scottish Parliament 24 April 2008

I shall try and restore some calm to the chamber, because there are significant issues to address.

I shall do that by starting with a concession to the SNP back benchers: the committee does not believe that there is evidence that Alex Salmond should be huckled off to the pokey.

I do not know whether that is a terribly strong position for the Government to be in, but no one is pretending that the law has been broken.

The issue is the quality of the judgment of the ministers involved in the process and the consequences that that has had.

Members can rubbish the debate as much as they wish, but the fact is that serious people outside the chamber regard these matters as being of national significance and as having serious consequences.

We must listen to those people.

It was important for the committee to take on this job.

We know that we have a First Minister who plays the person rather than the ball.

We also know that we have a First Minister who resists answering any questions and is keen to blame everyone else for everything that happens on his watch.

However, it is deeply depressing that that now seems to be elevated to a Government strategy.

The role of committees in scrutinising the work of the Executive is a crucial part of Parliament's work and ought not to be rubbished as a waste of time.

The day may come when SNP back benchers find themselves a spine and discover that a committee is a place to hold the Executive to account, even if it is their own Government.

Can members imagine the hyper-outrage of the SNP if, in previous years, there had been any suggestion that we ought not to ask questions or hold inquiries?

However, that was then, and this is now.

The reality is that the public are interested in the inquiry. Kenny Gibson welcomed it, and who could forget Alex Salmond bouncing into the committee to claim how delighted he was to be there?

He was slightly less delighted when we suggested that perhaps his judgment was being called into question and he is slightly less happy now that he has discovered that he has to respond to a serious report about his behaviour.

The Government likes administrative devolution and hates parliamentary scrutiny; it does what it can without accountability to the Parliament.

It refuses to make statements, even when instructed to do so by the chamber.

Government ministers are serial offenders, but I say to them that accountability goes with the territory.

The performance by the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change in responding to a serious report gives me grave cause for concern.

The central charges of the report are that the actions of the First Minister were "unwise and inappropriate" and that the actions of Mr Swinney were in danger of imperilling the development.

Taken together, their actions send out the message to big business that it can have preferential access, that planning is for the little people and that the normal rules do not apply to it.

I will not allow others in the chamber to misrepresent this issue as a divide between those who are pro-development and those who are against it or between those who are pro-business and those who are not.

It is about how our planning system works and how it can support, develop and acknowledge the role of local communities in shaping those developments, which is clearly not easy.

The key issue, which the First Minister himself accepted, is that the action of ministers has to pass the perception test.

The feature of the challenges that the First Minister accepted was about the perception of his role. As has been alluded to already, our former First Minister was challenged on the perception of his role in this development—indeed, he was challenged on the perception of who he chose to go on holiday with.

Everyone accepts that the perception test applies, so let us apply the perception test, as proposed by Nicola Sturgeon in the past.

Imagine a First Minister—who accepts that he has never done such a thing in his life before, and who was not on ministerial business and was not in his constituency—arriving somewhere in a ministerial car to meet, at short notice, following a decision of the local authority, representatives of the Trump Organization.

He discusses matters with them, phones the chief planner and hands the phone over.

A meeting is set up and, subsequently, a one-in-a-million decision is made.

I have to say that, by this point in the imaginative exercise, Nicola Sturgeon would have been in the stratosphere.

However, that was then; this is now.

The First Minister's defence is that he was taking a precautionary approach.

If that is the First Minister being cautious, heaven help us when the day comes when he decides to be reckless.

Everyone on the Government benches says that that is okay, because we are open for business.

However, it is plain that the First Minister was acting without thinking of the consequences and, terrified that Trump was going to walk, pulled out all the stops and helped a group of developers who would not use the powers and routes that were available to them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: One minute.

Johann Lamont: In the past, SNP back benchers chided us for not supporting the third-party right of appeal.

Indeed, Jim Mather chided me during the passage of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill, saying that, by not supporting a third-party right of appeal, we were not supporting communities.

We resisted the third-party right of appeal because of its consequences for development.

However, now we have a Government that thinks that people do not even need to exercise the first-party right of appeal.

How far have we come? Where is the balance now?

John Swinney told us that the issue was of national significance, which was not an argument that was deployed later.

The one thing that he did not do—this man who knew everything about the planning system—was act before the decision was made, when the process that resulted in that decision was on-going.

That would have solved the problem.

Instead, however, he chose to do it later.