Chief Mammy gets put on the naughty step

You could tell Ken Macintosh was furious because his tone was mild disapproval.

The Presiding Officer is the perennial pushover teacher but yesterday he waved his ruler menacingly in the direction of ministerial knuckles.

Later on, Education Secretary John Swinney would be announcing the ditching of the Named Persons scheme. Or rather announcing it to anyone who hadn’t read about it already in that morning’s newspapers. Somehow, this humiliating U-turn had been leaked in such a way that it lessened the SNP’s embarrassment in parliament. However could that have happened?

‘I understand that the government is investigating the matter,’ said Macintosh. I doubt if Columbo will need a whole episode to figure this one out.

Macintosh, who was jolly well minded to keep everyone in after lessons, reminded MSPs that ‘announcements on major policies should not enter the public domain before they are communicated to Parliament’.

Jackson Carlaw got to his feet with trepidation: ‘I will try to artfully dance around the comment that you have just made, Presiding Officer.’

And what a waltz it was. A shuffle here, a lunge there. He spun the First Minister dizzy with questions about her state snoopers plan, the longest-running and least successful spying operation since the Pierce Brosnan Bond years.

Sturgeon took the Frank Drebin approach of claiming everything was fine, like the hapless Naked Gun detective who causes an explosion in a fireworks factory then stands out front repeating ‘Nothing to see here’ as rockets combust around him.

She told MSPs: ‘Young people across Scotland already benefit from a named point of contact… and we want that to continue.’

Why then, Carlaw needled, had she gone to all the trouble of defending the policy in court, to the tune of £800,000 in legal fees? With Herculean humbug, Sturgeon told the interim Tory leader that his ‘tone’ was ‘regrettable’.

There is a whiff of don’t-you-know-who-I-am to the First Minister and even the mildest criticism can fill the air with entitled indignation.

Throughout, Swinney sat stony-faced. His tenure at education has been so dismal you wonder if he’s been hired by Angela Constance to rehabilitate her reputation.

Carlaw spun to a close by reminding ministers that they ignored every warning about state snoopers from teachers and parents and, now, ‘teachers and parents have been left, as usual, in the dark’.

With that, the Chief Mammy was dispatched to the naughty step.

Patrick Harvie, the Robespierre of recycling, was ready to man — sorry, person — the barricades over the revelation that David Cameron asked Her Majesty for ‘a raising of the eyebrow’ of scepticism towards independence during the 2014 referendum.

‘Another referendum is coming,’ Harvie declared, prompting a jeremiad from Sturgeon accusing the UK Government of ‘trying to block or rig Scotland’s democratic right to choose’. That’s what I always think when I consider Scottish politics over the last five years: not enough elections.

Harvie tried to quiz her on today’s youth climate strike — dogging school to save the dolphins — but Sturgeon continued: ‘Just finally on independence…’ Chance would be a fine thing.

Tory Donald Cameron pounced with an enigmatic query: Had Sturgeon ever used personal or party email addresses to conduct government business?

The Hillary question. Hmmm. Sturgeon began hesitantly. There was an almost audible whoosh of eyebrows shooting up foreheads. She side-stepped, then resumed her seat sharply, accompanied by an intrigued ‘ohhhh’ across the chamber.

‘Expect to hear more about this’ I jotted down, only for Neil Findlay to promptly oblige. Shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr interrogated the First Minister about police training but, the answer not provided in her big book, she asked him to forward her the details of the freedom of information response he quoted from.

‘Which email should he use?’ Findlay piped up. Whatever you make of his politics, he’s is a proper parliamentary bruiser, bringing wit, colour and personality to Holyrood. He’s standing down at the next election, naturally.


Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: Contact Stephen at 

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