A rare joy of First Minister’s Questions is spotting the Toady of the Week, the Nationalist backbencher who bids to ingratiate themselves by asking Nicola Sturgeon the softest question.
It’s a balancing act and all too easy to trip over your forelock as you tug it.
Sometimes it’s James Dornan, the Glasgow Grunter, who confronts diction like a baboon wrestling a trombone. There are a series of howls strung together by the occasional caw of ‘Westminster’ and since no one can decipher the cacophony the First Minister can talk about a topic of her choosing.
Other times it’s Emma Harper. If you can’t picture her, she’s the one that’s not Joan McAlpine.
Miss Harper is crisper than Mr Dornan though no clearer and specialises in breathless accusations with a question mark tacked on. ‘Does the First Minister agree that Theresa May stalks the nation’s pet shops punching newborn kittens?’
Yesterday it was Maree Todd’s turn. The soft-spoken Highlander usually asks questions like ‘If you could be any biscuit, what flavour would you be?’
Now, she pitched a right stumper: ‘Does the First Minister agree that the Tory party’s attempt to undermine the Scottish Parliament is completely unacceptable?’
The SNP is keen to get up the idea that Theresa May will use Brexit as a cover to steal powers from Holyrood.
The First Minister spun a blood-curdling tale of Westminster’s dark plot to asset-strip the Scottish Parliament and flog it on eBay. See that chair? Liam Fox is going to take it and challenge Michael Gove to a wheelie race round the Cabinet table.
This imaginary plot was a particular affront, since it coincided with the 20th anniversary of devolution.
The bounties of devolution have been on display all week. Before FMQs, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham was asked about wildlife crime. ‘Wildlife crime is crime,’ she began cryptically. ‘We are determined to put an end to wildlife crime.’
Much-needed reassurance for anyone unsure where the Scottish Government came down on the ‘Battering badgers with golf clubs: Yes or No?’ debate.
On Wednesday, Miss McAlpine was rebuked for squalling ‘You should bloody hang your heads in shame’ at the Tories during a debate on housing.
The same day, Shettleston MSP John Mason questioned whether Skye was ‘a real island’ since it has a bridge connecting it to the mainland. Later, he was asked if the Channel Tunnel had the same effect on Britain. ‘Some people would say we stopped being an island when [the] tunnel was built,’ he replied.
Wait till he finds out there are doors in the Great Wall of China.
Ruth Davidson flubbed a question on education. The Scottish Tory leader raised the case of a maths teacher who came from England to work in Scotland only to be told he had to go back to college for a year. She demanded a change to the rules.
The rules were changed, the First Minister replied with vicious delight. Last year. The Nationalist benches roared and Miss Davidson knew she was beat.
It was left to the Lib Dems to pick up the cudgel. Willie Rennie asked Miss Sturgeon if she regretted any of her failed education policies, his second act of bravery that day after a daring salmon shirt/flamingo tie pairing.
The First Minister has little patience for those who raise ‘problems’ in Scottish education. Besides, children don’t need to read English now that half the curriculum is taught in Scots.
Mr Rennie, God love him, persevered and suggested it might be time for an update of the McCrone Report, the last major inquiry into schooling. Miss Sturgeon accused him of wanting to ‘kick everything into the long grass with a review that will take forever to report’.
From a First Minister who has dodged more decisions than Pontius Pilate, it was a heroic effort. Then again, she’s better with questions from the fierce guardians of parliamentary scrutiny behind her.
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