Too few answers in this too-long question session

The 1980s was a mixed bag as decades go. There was Depeche Mode, shoulder pads, and glorious cat fights on Dynasty. Alas, there was also Phil Collins, Swatch watches, and Hi-de-Hi!

But the most egregious sin of the Eighties — worse even than mullets or Arthur Scargill — was management-speak, that soulless jargon of boardroom charlatans who faffed on about squaring circles and running things up flagpoles. It was swiftly adopted by politicians who grasped that ‘blue-sky thinking’ was a nifty substitute for the earth-based doing of stuff.

As a First Minister who has elevated inaction to an art form, Nicola Sturgeon is unsurprisingly a fan of ‘reviews’, ‘consultations’, and, most of all, ‘strategies’.

Ruth Davidson took a gulp of air and read Holyrood a list of all the strategies the SNP currently has on the go: ‘There is an economic growth strategy, a digital strategy, an energy strategy, a circular economy strategy, a climate change plan, a trade and investment strategy, a labour market strategy, a social enterprise strategy and a hydro nation strategy. There is a strategy action plan for women in enterprise; a science, technology, engineering and mathematics strategy; a manufacturing action plan; a youth employment strategy; an innovation action plan; a national islands plan; an agenda for cities and, finally, an Arctic strategy.’

Somehow the Tory boss got through it on a single breath. Jackson Carlaw was another 10-point-plan away from sudden promotion.

The best Sturgeon could muster was: ‘Ruth Davidson mentioned the Arctic… Scotland is going cold on the Tories.’ The opposition groaned and even her own MSPs were hushed. If they were allowed to make sounds without prior permission, they would have groaned too.

Despite all these strategies, Davidson noted, the Scottish economy was growing at a third of the UK rate. A think tank had gently suggested a more ‘streamlined and effective policy landscape’. ‘They’re just being polite, aren’t they?’ the Tory leader jabbed.

Ruth Davidson could never be accused of excessive politeness. She had a rare time ridiculing the First Minister yesterday. ‘If strategies and press releases were enough to grow the Scottish economy, we would be steaming ahead by now.’

The Tories had no right talking about the economy, Sturgeon riposted, when the UK Tories were ‘dragging us out of the EU against our will’. Imagine a hapless minority government wanting to drag us out of a successful political and economic union.

The rest of FMQs was taken up by the impact of Brexit on fruit-picking in Angus and the revelation that Highland gamekeepers shoot rabbits. I thought they spent their days at PETA protests and ramblers’ rights rallies. With a tremor in her voice, the Greens’ Alison Johnstone told the chamber the culling of the Scottish mountain hare was beastly and the under-fire bunnies ‘iconic’. Iconic, and delicious with parsley and red wine in a pie.

At least we can be grateful she didn’t blame Brexit. There seems to be almost nothing wrong in Scotland that isn’t the fault of our departure from the EU, something which doesn’t happen for another year. Much of FMQs is now taken up with gripes passing as questions and softballs pitched from the SNP backbenches which the First Minister deftly catches on her ascension to her soapbox.

FMQs used to last 30 minutes and even then it was testing. Didn’t these people have some helpless local business to be imposing themselves on for a photo op? The idea behind extending question time by 15 minutes was to give MSPs more opportunity to scrutinise government ministers and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have been held thoroughly to account ever since. SNP ministers… not so much.

The Presiding Officer should cut FMQs back to a half-hour and create a new fixture, the Weekly Whinge. Fifteen minutes for Nationalists to moan about Brexit, inveigh against the Tories, and ask Nicola Sturgeon why the BBC edits out her halo on Reporting Scotland.

Have your say on these issues by emailing

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: