Hello there, @RossMcCaff here, very kind of Kate to give me this regular space to discuss matters #sp4, chiefly taking the form of a look at that weekly feast of Cicero esque oratory brilliance, First Minister’s Questions, or #fmq for the twinitiated (Yes, that is twitter-initiated, and no, the standard won’t get any higher)
Leveson fever had gripped the entirety of UK political discourse yesterday, and it was in this context that Alex Salmond faced his weekly grilling from MSPs. Naturally, opposition politicians wanted to skewer him for being too close to the scandal’s de facto Straw man, Rupert Murdoch. This was hard to do having not seen the report itself, and thankfully Willie Rennie made up for it with a baffling press release later in the day having skimmed Leveson for the merest mention of our esteemed First Minister.
But, despite this being a Willie Rennie week (the Lib Dems having been reduced to something of a hardy survivors network) it nonetheless fell to Johann Lamont (henceforth Oor Johann) to ask the first question, a strange un, about when the FM had last saw fit to complain to a newspaper about its coverage. Answer came there none, naturally, though perhaps a post collegegate Salmond is reluctant to deliver figures with his customary flourish and bombast for fear of being forced to the chamber for a 5 pm mea culpa that was starting to become an alarmingly regular event. Back to the questions. Was he wrong to invite Rupert Murdoch for tea and tunnocks after the most damning of the revelations? A curious field of questioning for Johann, especially the way she ended it. Could we trust him to come up with any kind of appropriate regulatory framework given he had decided to give the awful Aussie some post-dowler houseroom? Well, perhaps not would argue Johann, but, frankly, tough. Though she has markedly improved in recent times, chiefly through the FM’s declining standards it must be said, this comes dangerously close to the mirthlessly laughable spectacle that marked Iain Gray’s FMQ forays, calling for every minister to resign nigh on every week. The Murdoch drum works for the opposition to bang, and even SNP members I know felt a little queasy at The Boss entertaining someone who remained a pariah for even the notoriously pariah friendly Conservative Party, but did she expect the FM to submit to implement whatever the other 3 opposition leaders asked him to, as she seemed to suggest? Would he be bound to the conclusions of all – party talks? I can’t have been the only commentator thinking “well of course not!” they could bind him to anything, even banning him from meeting Rupert, or worse, banning him from partaking in teacakes. And, as the FM curiously neglected to mention (it is usually a staple of his FMQ pronouncements) the SNP did win last years election by quiet a comfortable margin, so aren’t really bound by anything other than the loyalty of their backbenchers, which judging by the planted questions and table banging, remains as solid as ever!
Ruth Davidson was on that firmest of Tory ground, eh, the NHS. Why would the First Minister axe 2000 nurses to only spend money recruit temporary bank nurses? A better question, or at least one more suited to the answer elicited, would’ve been “Why would the First Minister answer a procedural NHS question when it is far easier to remind everyone just what awful humans the Tories in charge of the English NHS are?” Had Ruth asked that question, she would have been mightily impressed with the answer that Salmond delivered. But, rightly or wrongly, the opposition know that asking a question on a specific Government department won’t work, and to continue plugging away with them makes Ruth just look too stubborn for her own good. Looking stubborn in a chamber with Alex Salmond. An impressive feat, and might I also recommend a new joke writer? The 500 grand expense for the First Minister’s sojourn to the Ryder Cup is fertile territory whether you’re going for an easy dig, or haughty righteous anger. By simply stating that 8 times 5 was indeed 40, Ruth simply misses a trick, and confirms her status as the doyenne of pisspoor political patter.
Skipping neatly over Willie Rennie, we come to probably the most interesting of the now traditional weekly backbench plants: Nigel Don asking the First Minister to confirm that he had no plans to merge any local authorities. What a curious indictment of the current nature of the institution that is FMQ that , among the other purposes it serves, it is now also used for the slapping down of errant Cabinet Secretaries who choose to talk before they have a chance to think, or worse, before they deign to find out what the line is. My advice to the aforementioned justice Secretary is the same as the advice I give to Alex Neil over his abortion idiocy, and the advice I so regularly give (in more stringent terms) to Nick Clegg. If your ‘personal opinion’ runs contrary to Government Policy, then save the commenteriat some glee, and the tweeting activists a bunfight by simply not expressing it.
More Next week: more than likely much more timely, and remember you can find lots of people, myself included, livetweeting the highlight of the Scottish Political Calendar using the #FMQ tag. Naturally, all feedback is cautiously welcomed.