The latest education rankings have not made easy reading for Nicola Sturgeon.
Standards in maths are plummeting faster than John Nicolson’s chances in Ochil and South Perthshire, while Scotland is being outperformed in science by Estonia, Slovenia and a handful of creationist Sunday schools in Alabama.
Jackson Carlaw, uncharitable sort that he is, brought this up at First Minister’s Questions. Sturgeon claimed performance was actually ‘stable’. Stable? And, perhaps, strong? Stay away from wheat fields, First Minister. She wasn’t downplaying how catastrophic things were in science and maths, she just wanted to talk about how things were marginally less catastrophic in reading.
Carlaw wasn’t buying it: ‘It is a little like people celebrating the fact that they have just had their kitchen redecorated when the front two rooms in the house are on fire.’
There was still one number left in Sturgeon’s hymnal of excuses and she belted it out with spirited fervour.
‘I think that it is a bit rich for Jacks—‘
Oh, ‘a bit rich’, was it? ‘I will take no lectures from’ and ‘I’m not going to apologise for’ must have been on annual leave.
She continued: ‘…for Jackson Carlaw, as the representative of the party that has imposed a decade of austerity on Scotland, to stand up here and talk about the quality of public services’.
Apparently it was the Tories’ fault that Higher Maths pupils think logarithms were a Seventies soul group. The Scottish education system has been run by the SNP for 12 years now, or three generations in Nationalist arithmetic.
The Scottish Tory leader quoted Edinburgh University professor Lindsay Paterson on the Scottish Government’s ‘disgraceful political spin’ on the figures.
As Carlaw read out the educationalist’s damning verdict, several Nationalist MSPs behind Sturgeon, including junior minister Christina McKelvie, laughed in that hollow, affected way that you do when you’re a politician at FMQs or an audience member at Marcus Brigstocke.
Labour leader Richard Leonard asked about Susan Deacon, who had resigned as chair of the Scottish Police Authority and branded the oversight body ‘fundamentally flawed in structure, culture and practice’. There are Police Academy sequels that got better reviews than that.
Leonard thundered that ‘for the past two weeks, the First Minister has toured television studios boasting about her record in Government’. The truth, he intoned prosecutorily, was that ‘none of Scotland’s public services can be trusted in her Government’s hands‘.
Sturgeon pivoted to the Tory record on police numbers at Westminster, which would have been a good answer if Leonard was a Tory and they weren’t both standing 400 miles north of Westminster. It’s not just Police Scotland. She probably blames the Tories for The Bill getting cancelled.
Ross Greer has a bee in his bonnet about taxpayers’ money going to support Scottish-based defence firms, because Green Party policy is to surrender the UK’s entire military capability then unilaterally disarm our peashooters just to be on the safe side.
He quizzed Sturgeon on a company awarded Scottish Enterprise cash to, in its words, ‘take advantage of market moves that have resulted in gaps in the manufacture of explosives’. I suppose when you manufacture explosives, gaps are a hazard of the job.
‘Is it seriously her position,’ Greer pressed, ‘that funding the expansion of a bomb-making factory is different from funding the direct manufacture of bombs?’
Sturgeon reiterated her line about not subsidising weapons production but admitted she was unfamiliar with the company and would get back to Greer.
Other than scrapping Trident, the SNP doesn’t take much of an interest in national security. Behind the First Minister, they were tellingly hushed at all this defence talk, even Christina McKelvie. She thinks Lockheed Martin is an SNP candidate in the Highlands.
Lib Dem Beatrice Wishart said her Shetland constituents were ‘appalled to learn that there has been a second legal challenge to the awarding of the Northern Isles ferry service contract’.
It’s a fair old mess, right enough. The Scottish Government is being sued by Calmac, which is owned by the Scottish Government, meaning SNP ministers have somehow managed to take themselves to court.
Judge Judy’s going to need a full episode for this one.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.