To Holyrood, the grim final yards of the Royal Mile, for the weekly match of statistics badminton.
Ruth Davidson had an ace up her sleeve in the form of new figures on subject choice in secondary schools.
Calculator-bothering boffins in the Scottish Conservative research department — Tory Nerd Squad — had uncovered a 40 per cent drop in pupils studying seven or more subjects in their fourth year. No less shocking was the spike in pupils doing even fewer courses than that.
Davidson considers this a scandal; teenagers consider it a lie-in. The teacher’s pet had clyped on Nicola Sturgeon to Professor Jim Scott, headteacher turned academic. The heidie reckoned more than 200 schools had seen falls in subject choice since Curriculum for Excellence was introduced. Must do better, First Minister.
Sturgeon dodged the dunce cap by volleying back her own statistics, all of which happily demonstrated that everything was hunky-dory. Anyway, Davidson had ‘a bit of a cheek’ bringing up school resources, since she was ‘the leader of the Austerity Party in Scotland’.
Sturgeon essayed: ‘Much of the analysis that Professor Scott has done has looked at qualifications at S4, but the fundamental point that we are making is that, although that is, of course, important, what is more important is the qualifications that young people leave school with.’
Steve Clarke ought to hire the First Minister. With goalpost-shifting skills like that, Scotland would qualify for the World Cup in no time.
When the figures went against her, she produced figures of her own. When the facts proved unhelpful, she simply rewrote them. When her government’s record came under fire, she announced boldly that education had got much better since the SNP came to power.
Youngsters may be doing fewer subjects but the First Minister is on course for Advanced Highers in arithmetic, creative writing and revisionist history.
Richard Leonard said scrapping TV licences for the over-75s was terrible and asked Sturgeon to sign his letter to Theresa May saying as much. Leonard typifies the Labour Left: he’s against all sorts of injustices and has a different petition for each one.
‘I am very happy to look at any letter Richard Leonard wants to send me but the Scottish Government has already written to the UK Government on the matter,’ came her withering response.
Leonard is a well-intentioned bore, the only MSP with a lack-of-interest register. He’s the sort of bloke who’d give you chapter and verse on the class dynamics of public transport while you stood silently wishing you’d asked someone else what time the number 17 was due.
Still, it was surprising to hear the leader of the SNP defend the right of older people to watch the BBC free of charge. Surely she’d want to protect them from all those MI5 mind rays.
A succession of backbenchers dragged out the proceedings. Stuart McMillan asked ‘what the Scottish Government is doing to make people aware of scams’. Given their plan to post an Indyref2 leaflet to every household in Scotland, they could hardly be said to be slacking in this regard.
Jenny Gilruth popped up to warn that the Tories were plotting to ‘rip up the Scotland Acts and seize control of spending and decision making in devolved areas’. She said it like it was a bad thing.
As is increasingly true these days, FMQs plodded along while the real action was elsewhere. At Westminster, votes were being tallied in the first round of the Tory leadership race. Boris Johnson left his rivals in the dust and the Scottish Tories in the doldrums.
The presumptive Prime Minister has thrown up all sorts of constitutional quandaries by hinting that he could prorogue the Commons to get Brexit done. If they prorogued Holyrood, the only question is whether anyone would notice.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Stephen at email@example.com.