It must take its toll, all that phoney outrage, and, true enough, Nicola Sturgeon looked fed up being fed up.
At First Minister’s Questions, she did her usual shouting and deployed her familiar demagoguery but her heart wasn’t in it.
Not long before FMQs kicked off, one of her most promising MSPs, Highlander Gail Ross, announced she would be standing down next year because the job was keeping her away from her young son. Amid all the galloping balderdash that captivates Holyrood, it’s easy to forget what really matters. There is a life beyond the parliament and Gail Ross can’t be the only one tempted to head for the exit.
Jackson Carlaw did some shouting of his own. The Scottish Tory leader has promised his party will ‘up its game’ but so far he’s only upped his octaves. Yesterday, his ire was directed at John Swinney’s underhand approach to a report on falling pass rates in schools. Rather than being brought before parliament, the review was punted out at 8pm last Thursday, after most MSPs and journalists had gone home.
Carlaw boomed that the Education Secretary had snuck out the report ‘under cover of darkness’. This had the unintended effect of making Swinney sound like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape rather than Kenneth Williams in Carry On Teacher.
‘If Jackson Carlaw thinks that 8pm on a Thursday evening is late,’ Sturgeon scolded, ‘that says more about his work rate than it does about anything to do with the Scottish Government.’ I’m not sure Mr Carlaw’s evening routine — sweet sherry, The Archers, life-size Queen Mother jigsaw — is any of the First Minister’s business.
Anyway, Sturgeon had experts who said Scottish education was just dandy. ‘More young people are now leaving school with at least five passes at higher level,’ she boasted. ‘The First Minister has finally taken up the habit of her predecessor in regularly patting herself on the back,’ Carlaw sniped.
‘I am not patting myself or the Deputy First Minister on the back,’ she riposted. ‘I am patting on the back the young people of Scotland.’ Carlaw, on the other hand, ‘wants to talk down the Scottish education system’. The First Minister’s ability to go from the-children-are-our-future bromide-merchant to traitor-baiting hyper-patriot — from the Whitney Houston of Scottish nationalism to the Joe McCarthy — borders on impressive.
Richard Leonard’s subject of choice was out-of-hours GP services in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Leonard doesn’t ask questions, he piles verbless clause on verbless clause until his opponent buckles under the weight or the semicolon collapses from exertion. He’s so long-winded he sounds like he’s on loop.
Sturgeon explained how things were so much worse in Wales but not why there weren’t getting better in Scotland. The first minister thinks this a terribly clever answer because it frustrates Labour, but it increasingly makes her look out of touch — as if she’s pivoting to Wales because she has no idea what’s happening in the Scottish NHS.
Kilmarnock and Loudoun MP Willie Coffey wanted Sturgeon to agree on the ‘positive influence’ Biffy Clyro (a washing powder?) and Fatherson (new Netflix drama?) had on the youth of today. It turned out both were rock bands from Kilmarnock. (Anything after Alma Cogan and I’m clueless.) Sturgeon hailed both groups as ‘excellent and inspirational’ and said they ‘illustrate the importance of giving young people access to music’. In 26 out of Scotland’s 32 council areas, pupils now have to pay for music tuition.
Willie Rennie asked about the court decision delaying a third runway at Heathrow. Was she for or agin it? Suddenly, Sturgeon was a stickler for the rules. Heathrow was ‘not for the Scottish Government… not within our power or areas of responsibility’.
Rennie sunk into his chair, defeated, and ripped up the paper in his hands. If only they’d build a third runway in Cardiff, we’d never hear the end of it.