The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill will go ahead, but the question remains open how it will look at the end of the day.
That would be my take on yesterday's stage 1 debate in the Scottish Parliament. While the vote for the bill was 92-2 (it was the two Green members who opposed it), the speakers from the opposition parties almost all emphasised that much more time and effort will still be needed to take on board the concerns recently voiced from within the profession.
We can however begin to sketch out some likely parameters.
First, there is an across-the-board recognition that the Scottish Government has to take some action in response to the OFT's conclusions on the Which? super-complaint – even though some members were distinctly unimpressed with the evidence from these bodies before the Justice Committee.
Secondly, I think we are unlikely to see the ABS aspects of bill survive in their present undiluted form. Although the minister presented an enthusiastic endorsement of it in his opening speech, there were enough words of warning in the contributions from other parties, largely based on the unease within the profession, to give a clear indication that the Parliament still wants to take a long hard look at how best to move forward.
Thirdly, this week's proposal from Govan Law Centre for "co-ownership" of up to 25% of the business by non-lawyers working within it could come to be regarded as the base level for reform: coming from a body that had hitherto opposed the bill, Labour members at least appear inclined to give it weight. Despite last week's SGM vote, some movement of this sort looks increasingly likely.
Finally, running through a number of the speeches was a shared feeling that opponents of the bill have overstated their case and conducted the wider debate in a manner that members regarded as unhelpful. In consequence considerable sympathy and support was expressed for the position of the Society (and the current President), perhaps the opposite result to that intended by the critics. If the Society does manage to put forward what looks like a reasonable compromise it can be expected to achieve a receptive audience in the Parliament.
Stage 2 of the bill will be critical. MSPs want a full debate and are in no mood to be rushed, but they also want to see a constructive approach. The approach, and the tone, adopted within the profession between now and the Society's AGM will be crucial in determining the extent to which it will influence that debate.