First Minister’s Questions is no place for alarmism.
Nicola Sturgeon made that clear when she warned Jackson Carlaw against ‘inadvertently undermin[ing] public confidence’ in the flu jab.
On what tenuous basis was the interim Tory leader engaging in such wanton scaremongering? Other than the fact that 61 per cent of over-65s haven’t received the vaccine this year, none at all.
The First Minister was less concerned about prompting panic when asked about reports of more than 500 ‘nuclear safety events’ at Faslane since 2006. Lifelong bomb-banner Sturgeon intoned gravely: ‘Each of those more than 500 safety incidents could have had potentially disastrous consequences.’
Something about this didn’t sound right. Wouldn’t we have heard about this before now? ‘Ere a squeak of doubt could be emitted, the Presiding Officer corralled his charges onto the next question.
Labour went big on education, the portfolio unfortunate enough to be Sturgeon’s number one priority. Richard Leonard asked what impact SNP council cuts have had on schools.
The First Minister’s answer followed a now familiar format. Stage One: Nicola Feels Your Pain. Public sector employees were ‘of course feeling the constraints of the squeeze in spending’.
Stage Two: The Spin. The Nationalists had ‘taken responsible budgetary decisions’.
Stage Three: The Magic Words. ‘That stands in stark contrast to…’ That sorcerous phrase transforms run-of-the-mill blather into a bewitching Sturgeon incantation. The contrast is with Them Down South and it is always stark because they are a beastly lot, not enlightened and progressive like us.
The plight of councils in England and Wales was much worse, Sturgeon chanted, so we should swallow our gruel and be thankful.
Sturgeon reckons this is a clever piece of misdirection but it makes her sound blissfully unaware of what’s going on in her own back yard. It would be as if Theresa May pivoted from every question about Brexit to note that morning’s delays on the No.22 to Bishopton.
Leonard’s questions rattled around the rafters in search of a point, which seemed to be that local government didn’t have enough money but should be spending more on teachers’ salaries.
The EIS and SSTA — the Bonnie and Clyde of industrial bolshiness — are sticking up the Scottish Government for more loot. They were offered a three per cent pay bump but took one look at Education Secretary John Swinney’s sums and told him to write out one thousand times, ‘I must not cross heavily unionised public sector workers.’
The chalkface mafia is demanding a 10 per cent salary hike and threatening to keep everyone behind until they get it.
Ministers’ stinginess, the unions say, is putting a strain on teachers’ bank balances. Sturgeon scolded Labour for being ‘detached from reality’ on pay. A brave remark from a woman who makes Marie Antoinette look like Arthur Scargill.
As the proceedings sputtered out and MSPs sharpened their elbows for the cafeteria dash, Jackie Baillie’s Dumbarton-by-way-of-Downton pitch sliced across the chamber.
‘Ohn a point of ohrdah.’ Hungry sighs greeted her interjection. What now?
Bomber Baillie leapt to her feet and to the defence of Trident, the nuclear warhead slugger that employs many of her constituents at Faslane. Yes, there had been 500 ‘nuclear events’ but only two of them were ‘Category A’ (the most serious) and both had taken placed over a decade ago.
Safety had greatly improved since then, Full Metal Jackie thundered. ‘I am sure that the First Minister would not want to mislead the chamber intentionally,’ she said, flashing a ballistic grin.
The Tories burst into applause and the Nats pointed back and forth, hoi-ing and hey-ing at the outrage of a Labour MSP being cheered by the Conservatives.
It was a startling sight. Imagine the Scottish Tories clapping for someone as right-wing as Jackie Baillie.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.