Ruth’s last hurrah

CACKLE: Davidson reacts to a ‘tribute’ from Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon faced questions in the Scottish Parliament on March 24, 2021It was the final First Minister’s Questions before the election and Ruth Davidson’s last before quitting Holyrood. This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of proceedings. 

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At last, the back of the most wretched, fetid, scandal-flecked parliament in memory. Gone in a final flurry of questions to the First Minister, and not a moment too soon.

Going out with it was Ruth Davidson, who is standing down to take up a seat in the House of Lords as Baroness Boudica of Better Together. (There is a chance I have embellished the title.)

You will likely be aware of her parliamentary flitting thanks to Nicola Sturgeon, who can’t seem to get it off her mind. At least her memory is improving.

For their final showdown, Davidson eschewed fireworks and went for the guilt trip: education. The First Minister once ranked it as her number one priority, a dubious grasp of arithmetic but still enough for a maths Higher under Curriculum for Excellence.

Davidson hauled in John Swinney, who had told the education committee that morning he wasn’t keen on talk of pupils ‘catching up’ after the pandemic as that assumed all had fallen behind.

Fair point. The best part of a year learning how to conjugate verbs via webcam will have left most kids ready for their Cambridge entrance exams.

Davidson tried to get Sturgeon to disavow Swinney’s view, and agree that ‘everything possible must be done to help pupils catch up after the better part of a year out of the classroom’, but the First Minister wasn’t having it.

Instead, she professed her pleasure that Davidson was ‘back onto the issue of education and attainment in what is, of course, her last FMQs before she goes to the unelected House of Lords’.

Oh, and yes, she backed up Swinney. At first, then she slipped up and used the dreaded C-U term herself: ‘We will be introducing a summer programme… so that we make sure they recover and catch up in that wider sense.’

Who knows what pupils will make of the news that school’s in for summer. No more pencils/ No more books/ No more Zoom lessons left on mute.

Davidson counselled that ‘a bit of contrition from the First Minister might be in order’ after a damning Audit Scotland report into the persistent attainment gap.

Sturgeon returned serve: ‘While Ruth Davidson is off taking £300 a day to sit in the unelected House of Lords, those of us who are in this chamber will be getting on with the job of improving education for all.’

Ken Macintosh interjected: ‘You have twice mentioned the House of Lords, First Minister. The point has been made.’

Gosh. Had someone slipped an extra spoonful of sugar into his porridge?

‘Gallant but not required, Presiding Officer,’ Davidson demurred.

She recalled how Sturgeon had hailed closing the attainment gap as her ‘sacred responsibility’, and enquired why it was ‘just as wide as ever’.

Sturgeon vowed to put her case to the people and ‘tell them, in areas where we have not made as much progress as we wanted, why that is the case’. I’m not sure she needs an election to do that. We all know what a map of England looks like.

The First Minister decried ‘the values of Ruth Davidson and her Westminster bosses’, then segued into: ‘As that was her final question, I say that I genuinely wish Ruth Davidson well—’

The Tory broke into a cackle at the audacious handbrake turn.

She and Sturgeon were always a mismatch. Davidson revels in parliamentary theatrics and has an impish sense of humour, which sometimes helps her and sometimes hurts her. Sturgeon is a political processor — briefing papers in, talking points out — and, the rare outbreak of wit aside, has the demeanour of Mary Whitehouse on a fact-finding mission to Sodom and Gomorrah.

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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.

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