After Theresa May shimmied onto the conference stage in Birmingham to ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’, I had hoped Nicola Sturgeon would make more of her entrance to First Minister’s Questions.
Maybe she and Derek Mackay would lead the rest of the Cabinet in a Dashing White Sergeant across the debating chamber.
Great was my disappointment when she barrelled in, that all-important folder of excuses, fudges and justifications tucked under her arm, and headed straight for her chair in the centre of the room. (Where else?)
She did not look happy. I almost didn’t notice because, generally speaking, the First Minister has all the humour of a provincial German bank clerk but yesterday she seemed especially testy. I scrolled down the order paper. Ah. There was a question about the Scottish Government’s handling of historical misconduct allegations.
We got a dance after all, though, when Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson tangoed over schools. Davidson produced with a flourish claims from an SNP-voting primary teacher that staff were afraid to speak out about the state of education under the Nats for fear of getting their knuckles rapped. One teacher who arranged a meeting with alleged Education Secretary John Swinney was told to cancel it pronto or be carpeted by their bosses.
Sturgeon consulted her instructions manual and recited with an android’s empathy: ‘Teachers, parents and sometimes older pupils email me regularly to openly tell me their views on schools. Often, they talk about the many positives of school education; at other times, they point out things that they think we should be doing better.’
I would like to see those emails praising the SNP’s record on education. I could file them alongside all the letters asking James Dornan to stop being so charming.
Davidson wasn’t about to let it go and accused the Scottish Government of presiding over a ‘culture of fear’ in which teachers were being ‘strong armed to keep their mouths shut because it might embarrass the Education Secretary’. The closer she gets to her due date, the more savage she becomes. This kid she’s carrying must be a prize-fighter.
By this point Sturgeon’s chorus was yapping like a kennel on a full moon. Sentences composed entirely of vowels were hurled across the chamber. Heads shook in mock outrage and hands flailed around wildly. Outside of an Italian wedding or a Glaswegian wake, I know of no group that can communicate as fully in murmur and gesticulation as the SNP back benches.
RoboSturgeon repeated her scripted reply: The Scottish Government didn’t tell the teacher to cancel the Swinney meeting.
Goodness, gracious. No one would suggest otherwise. The SNP is known for its openness to criticism. Why, if you share your concerns with the First Minister, Joanna Cherry will even provide a free family tree service that lets you know about all the Tory councillors you didn’t realise you were related to.
Sturgeon tried to sound a touch more human: ‘Let me issue this message to teachers or any other public sector worker across the country, “Come and tell the government how you feel about your job and your public services, whether that is good or bad, and whether it is about positives or things that we ought to do better”.’
They’re going to have to block off some amount of diary time for that. Besides, if they let teachers anywhere near this shower, half the Cabinet would be standing in the corner in dunce’s caps.
The First Minister loosened up a bit in her to-and-fro with Willie Rennie. ‘I am worried about the First Minister,’ the Lib Dem feigned as he asked why she was ‘frozen with indecision’ over the People’s Vote campaign, which wants a second Brexit referendum with the question: ‘Do you wish to remain in the European Union or would you rather we just went ahead and drowned your pets now?’
‘I have been worried about Willie Rennie for an awful long time,’ she shot back. Now, that’s a dancer.
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