Scottish parliament set for image makeover

AFTER A two-month holiday, the Scottish parliament today begins work on a swathe of new legislation in an attempt to deflect accusations of ``skiving''.

The Parliament which went into recess on 2 July, just a day after its official opening, will be seeking to improve on its image.

Labour, in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, intends to introduce new rules for all MSPs giving them just 30 days holiday entitlement instead of the 17 weeks they voted themselves earlier in the year.

They will also immediately debate emergency legislation to confine psychopaths in state institutions. The hurried new law follows heavy criticism of the new Parliament's inaction after the release last month of Noel Ruddle, 44, who killed his neighbour with a Kalashnikov.

Ruddle was freed after he exploited a loophole in the law, which required his release if Carstairs special hospital was unable to provide effective treatment.

The proposed new law will give sheriffs the power to consider public safety and provide automatic detention for inmates if the First Minister appeals against their release.

The Scottish Executive will also pursue a popular agenda including banning fox hunting ahead of England and outlawing the ancient practice of warrant sales, whereby a debtor may have his personal effects sold to satisfy his creditors.

Donald Dewar, the First Minister, has embraced both these initiatives during the summer after being accused of setting out a lacklustre legislative programme. He is also aware of the high-profile performance put up by Dr John Reid, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who took much credit for saving the Govan shipyard.

However, for all his effort to relaunch his Executive, Mr Dewar will be concerned that the fault line with his coalition - over the Liberal Democrat demands for the abolition of university tuition fees - will again emerge when an independent commission reports on the subject in December.

The early days of the new session are also likely to be overshadowed by the by-election in the Defence Secretary, George Robertson's Hamilton South constituency on September 23. The Scottish National Party's candidate is Annabelle Ewing, daughter of Winnie Ewing, the matriarch of modern Scottish nationalism.