The Ghost of Christmas Past takes many forms but none so cruel as Ruth Davidson.
Nicola Sturgeon had one final First Minister’s Questions of 2017, an unkind year in which the SNP leader ask Father Christmas for Indyref2 but got a lump of coal in her stocking and Alex Salmond on Russia Today. Any hope that she could get through her last parliamentary grilling without being reminded of the year’s many low points faded with the appearance of Miss Davidson, rattling chains and loving every minute of it.
Cast your mind back, the Tory leader invited, to the distant days of 2016 when the First Minister, cornered on the classroom recruitment crisis, pledged to hire additional teachers in priority subjects. Very commendable it was too. So, how many specialist graduates had been despatched to the chalkface?
They wish to be anonymous?
No, they wish to be left alone by the Scottish Government’s recruiters. A year and a half on from the First Minister’s announcement, her flagship programme had managed to sign up exactly no teachers. Zero. Zilch. Not a one. In fact, ministers were still in the process of setting up the scheme. Miss Sturgeon’s teacher recruitment drive hadn’t even got on the road yet. It wasn’t a case of Goodbye, Mr Chips so much as Please Stay Another Term, Mr Chips, and Would You Mind Covering Double Physics Tomorrow.
Next Miss Davidson turned to Christmas Present. A new framework for school inspections vowed by the First Minister was nowhere to be found. A guaranteed national action plan for training headteachers was conspicuous by its absence. Indeed, of the 75 education policies rolled out last year, a third had failed to materialise.
By this point, even Tiny Tim would have felt sorry for Miss Sturgeon. Stop, spirit! Why do you torment the First Minister so?
Mostly because Ruth Davidson takes unseemly pleasure in haunting her opposite number with her own broken promises.
She disappeared into the crisp winter eve with a frosty parting shot: ‘Famously, the First Minister started this year again insisting that education would be her number one priority. At the end of the year, does she really think that it looks that way?’
A somewhat less unsettling apparition was Richard Leonard, the Ghost of Scottish Labour’s Future. He started out with a strong question on Scottish Fiscal Commission forecasts which pointed to slow economic growth and lacklustre productivity under the Nationalists. Things went awry when he tried to blame Nicola Sturgeon for every redundancy in Scotland this year, a rare charge against the First Minister that even I thought was a bit unfair.
Mind you, she didn’t help herself when she fired back: ‘The member should ask the workers at Dalzell, who would not be in a job right now without the intervention of this government. He should ask the workers at Ferguson’s shipyard, who would not be in a job right now. Or the workers of BiFab, who would not be in a job this Christmas without the intervention of this government.’
The First Minister had saved their jobs and they had better be in all the earlier the next morning to thank her. Still, Mr Leonard’s performance was so windy and listless that Miss Sturgeon’s spurt of self-congratulation was forgivable. She is a seasoned parliamentary jouster and seemed sincerely offended by the Labour leader’s rambling. So she flattened him in one of her better turns this year. Perhaps I was carried away by the Christmas cheer but she had me fondly reminiscing about vintage Sturgeon. Yes, First Minister, there is a Santa Claus.
Elsewhere, Nationalist backbencher Stuart McMillan stressed the need for Christmastime road damage to be repaired ‘timeously’ and Nicola Sturgeon rushed to agree. Timeous is a quintessentially Holyrood word, ugly and redundant but Scottish and usefully obscure. If you promise to do things ‘on time’ you can be held to that. If you undertake to deliver an outcome ‘timeously’, most folk are too busy skimming through the dictionary to notice that you haven’t recruited a single specialist graduate teacher in 18 months.