by CAROLINE WILSON
A GLASGOW MSP has called for politicians to be given a free vote to decide if Scotland should introduce a new law that could increase the number of life-saving transplants by 30%.
On February 9, parliament will vote on whether to proceed with Labour MSP Anne McTaggart's bill for a 'soft' opt-out transplant system, which will make it easier for the public to become organ donors.
Under the change, consent will be assumed if individuals have not registered an objection during their lifetime.
Politicians are sometimes given a 'free vote' or 'conscience vote' on issues which are contentious, or where members of a single party differ in their opinions.
If politicians are not given a free vote, they will be asked to vote a certain way by the party's Whip. However, MSPs would still have the right to defy the party.
MSPs were given a free vote for the equal marriage bill, which was passed last year by a majority of 105 to 18.
Politicians were also given the same freedom to vote on the bill to ban smoking in cars in October, which was introduced by Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume and the assisted suicide bill, which was led by the late, independent MSP Margot McDonald.
Ms McTaggart said: “I have always said that saving lives goes above and beyond party politics and I sincerely hope that MSPs from all parties will be allowed a free vote when my Bill is debated in The Scottish Parliament.
"The issue of soft-opt out is something that every MSP should be permitted to make their own personal decision over, as was the case with the assisted suicide Bill and the equal marriage Bill.”
The Scottish Conservatives have said that MSPs will be given a free vote on the issue.
MSPs who have indicated they are supportive of the bill include Jackson Carlaw, Conservative MSP for West Scotland. Jamie McGrigor, Mary Scanlon, Elizabeth Smith and Alex Fergusson have said they are undecided.
Both the Greens and the Labour party have indicated they are broadly supportive of the bill and happy for it to proceed to the next stage.
The SNP has refused to say if MSPs will be given a free vote, despite repeated requests for clarification from the Evening Times.
However there been widespread support from the party for the change, since the Evening Times launched its Opt for Life campaign, more than four years ago.
In 2011, at least 35 SNP MSPs signed a motion put forward by Glasgow MSP Humza Yousaf, now Minister for Europe and International Development, on the back of our campaign.
Mr Yousaf said he "fully supported" the need to increase the number of donor organs to save more lives.
Other MSPs who supported the motion included Chic Brodie, James Dornan, Kenneth Gibson and Jamie Hepburn.
The same year, Nationalists overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling on the Government to consider an opt-out system.
SNP MSPs who have signed Anne McTaggart's bill include Kenneth Gibson, Stewart Maxwell, Kevin Stewart, Dave Thompson and Sandra White.
On February 9, parliament will debate the general principles of the bill and vote whether it should proceed to the next stage.
If the bill progresses, any amendments and all remaining objections will be considered and in the final stage, parliament will decide whether to pass or reject it.
A spokesman for the Scottish Greens said: "All 4 MSPs who are party members (Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone are Green MSPs, John Finnie and John Wilson are Independent) support the Bill and are happy for it to proceed to the next stage.
A spokesman for the Labour party said: "There is widespread support for this bill within the Labour group and Labour MSPs will be supporting the Bill"
The Scottish Liberal Democrats have not indicated if members will be given a free vote. Both Liam McArthur and Jim Hume have indicated they are supportive of Anne McTaggart's bill.
On December 1 last year, Wales became the first country in the UK to adopt a system of deemed consent for organ donation.
NHS Blood and Transplant has said the change has the potential to increase the number of transplants carried out in Scotland by a third.
The British Heart Foundation has cautioned the Scottish Government over plans to delay saying an evaluation of the Welsh system could take up to six years.