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A valuable lesson

Brian Taylor | 15:12 UK time, Thursday, 20 March 2008

In politics, there is a distinction to be drawn between opposing a rival on an individual issue and ascribing malign motivation to a person’s entire standpoint.

Alex Salmond drew that distinction, quietly and neatly, in parliament as he faced questions over the Robert Foye case.

Pressed by Annabel Goldie, he reminded her - again quietly and without rancour - how many convicts had absconded from open prison in the last year of Conservative governance in Scotland.

The figure was higher than at present.

The First Minister then chided his Tory opponents. He argued that they appeared to be suggesting that the underlying motivation of ministers was malign.

“No party in this chamber”, he added, “has anything other than the safety of the public uppermost in our minds.”

Had Ms Goldie not run out of time, she might have retorted that she was questioning the practical implications of ministerial policy for public safety. Not their core motives.

However, Mr Salmond had contrived to issue a valuable lesson, well delivered. Politics is best served by tolerant, evidence-based argument.


  • 1.
  • At 04:20 PM on 20 Mar 2008,
  • Gregor Addison wrote:

Well said Brian. Unfortuneately, as the decision to debate the Trump issue in parliament shows, it is often not facts but a desire to spin that motivates politicians.

  • 2.
  • At 08:47 PM on 20 Mar 2008,
  • karin wrote:

brian most senisble thing i have heard you say so far. That is exactly what the public want to hear EVIDENCE not spin evidence. All we have had so far from the opposition parties in the scottish parliament is attempts to smear the government with no evidence. Paticularly in the case of the trumped up trial.

  • 3.
  • At 09:37 PM on 20 Mar 2008,
  • Grant wrote:

I listened to the podcast and it is sad that Annabel Goldie resorted to tacky partisanship over an extremely sensitive issue like this. At FMQ's she has been streets ahead of the other opposition leaders and provided the only effective opposition to Alex Salmond. She let herself down badly this time.

  • 4.
  • At 11:13 PM on 20 Mar 2008,
  • Bob wrote:

Gregor is absolutely right with his observations.

The position of the Britnat Parties, of being against the will of the Sovereign People of Scotland leaves them constantly out in the cold. The collaboration of your organisation, to deny the Scottish People an open and fair voice does you no service and at the least condemns all of you to becoming more irrelevant everyday.

Scotlands People are very clear on the path forward. One only needs to study the recent MRUK polls to see that whoever wins the Westminster Election will only result in a majority of Scots voting for Independance. The referendum promised by the great man Alex Salmond, will be held just after the SNP Scottish Government is returned with an overwhelming majority in our Parliament. It is no longer a dream or a maybe, it is now a fact that people like you have to come to terms with.

I look forward to the day when Scots can put the lies of the past and present behind us, and we can all get on with the job of reinstating the Scottish Peoples justified pride at being a race of unique people with a distinct culture that can stand tall in the international group of free countries.

  • 5.
  • At 09:08 AM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • Edwin Moore wrote:

Concise and as Gregor says well said - but Salmond is a devilishly fine master at this kind of counterstroke, especially from Ms Goldie. It was an autopilot response really. Of course, the fact that Salmond's opponents are not up to the job is not his fault!

  • 6.
  • At 09:22 AM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • Celtic Lion wrote:

The Conservative party's populist stance on punishment has concerned me for some time. They would introduce public flogging if they thought it would bring them votes, and hang (if you'll excuse the pun) the fact it will do very little to prevent crime.

The line between prevention and punishment has been becoming blurred for some time now in Scotland and the UK, it's about time we learnt to distinguish the difference again. Perhaps, for that reason as much as any, it's it's an apt place to begin a resurgence in evidence-based argument in politics.

  • 7.
  • At 10:06 AM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • Ian wrote:

Do you mean to say that Salmond actually answered a question in FM question time?

Or did he just waffle a bit and slag off his opponents?

  • 8.
  • At 11:28 AM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • Andrew wrote:

Miss Goldie was suitably contrite I thought, but not sure that the thickos in the Labour ranks would understand the message.

  • 9.
  • At 01:02 PM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • Jack Bloxam wrote:

Brian says

"Politics is best served by tolerant, evidence-based argument"

A bit radical, that, isn't it? Wot? No braying, no cat calling, no unsupportable faux statistics and none of the execrable flam we get at Westminster?

As an Englishman in Scotland, (whoops) I am increasingly impressed by the way Holyrood conducts itself by comparison with Westminster. It is a credit to the nation.

I still don't understand the Trump odyssey. I thought it was the collective will of the local people that the Trump business was welcome and that one local politician with delusions of power was blocking it and that Mr Salmond, in his capacity as local MSP was attempting to act in the best interests of his constituents. Am I missing something?

  • 10.
  • At 01:42 PM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • Sandra Scott wrote:

Well, most of FMQ was interesting. Both Ms Goldie and Nicol Steven asking sensible questions. Ms Alexander however, is another matter altogether. Like a terrier trying to worry a rabbit she attacks??? on the same question again and again. Even when the qustion is answered she continues as if not listening. She really needs to up the anti. On the polictical programme on STV last night she also was an embarrassment, talking to the presenter like a naughty schoolboy in her slow, condecending, words of one syllable tone. It gets on my nerves the way she trys to make other people look small and uneducated. She does not appear to have any people skills.

  • 11.
  • At 08:03 PM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • scyinical sid. wrote:

well ' to have an effective and efficient government we MUST have even better effective and efficient opposition. anabel goldie has been the most consistent performer in the opposition ranks. she fully understands how this minority government thing works . after an absolutley shocking start nicol stephen is at least getting a bit better but has still got a good way to go to prove his worth. and then dragging up the rear is wendy and the ostritches who still haven't worked out that they actually lost the election.after having decades of labour in power in scotland with no opposition ,no matter who is in power we must have an effective opposition!

Tahnk you for that Brian.
We appear to have watched the same FMQs.
Please can you tell me why the opposition while asking a question constantly refer to a script?
To me a question should be just that, not some party hacks words read out with the odd smart a**ed 'funny' thrown in.
Is there no spontaniety allowed?
Does it all have to be compiled and read ?
I have to say it sure does'nt work for me!

  • 13.
  • At 01:22 PM on 22 Mar 2008,
  • djmac wrote:


A fair number of posters are picking up on the issue of the real lack of leadership from the opposition parties in Holyrood. I would exclude the redoutable Annabell Goldie from this charge, but the two other parties continually fail to demonstrate the necessary leadership skills in opposition which should be a vital part of minority government.

Would anyone really notice if Tweedledum or Tweedledee was re-arranging the deck-chairs on what used to the decent ship LibDem?? But the real issue lies with the Labour Party and its continuing dearth of leadership since the May 2007 elections.

There are at least two reasons for this. One is that the incumbent is probably one of the least qualified (on performance related evidence) candidates to be 'given' the leadership of a political party. Secondly, it's becoming very clear anyway, but Ming Campbell has recently given confirmation, that G Brown's renowned 'control freakery' extends fully to the activities of the Labour Party in Scotland, such that the incumbent is wrapped in a Westminster straitjacket and is deprived of any political autonomy.

This is a very unhealthy position for the democratic process in Scotland and for enabling good Scottish government to thrive. There is little doubt that many electors see the current Scottish Government as a breath of fresh air, but systemic failures within the opposition also provide a real boost to the incumbent party.

Miss Goldie has done an admirable job in distancing the Scottish Tories from the 'Cameronians' of Westminster and the Labour Party of Westminster, as it operates in Scotland, would do well to take note of the fate of the Tory Party in Scotland from its peak in the 1950's to its virtual obliteration in the 1990's. The Labbour Party of Westminster in Scotland has put itself on a similar path and it requires a radical overhaul if it is not to suffer the same fate.

The 'raison detre' of Labour in Scotland seems to come down to one simplistic internal objective - 'Get Salmond!' Why else would the party, given its own admission of breaching electoral regulations permit Duncan MacNeill to pursue a vendetta through the Trump enquiry where not a single shred of evidence has been produced to say there was even an iota of wrongdoing on the part of the Scottish Government? Yet even the Labour Party in Scotland must spent every Saturday quaking in its boots over what other revelations will be revealed in the Sunday papers.

None of this is good for Scottish politics in general and government in particular, and the fair wind that has accompanied the new government is boosted in no small measure by the utter bankruptcy of leaderships skills and the complete 'straightjacketing' so firmly applied by G. Brown. Yet that, ironically, is at the very heart of devolution whose key underlying principle is 'power devolved is power retained' And G Brown has demonstrated his complete mastery of this art.

For the good of Scottish government going forward, this has to change and must be made to change.

Tahnk you for that Brian.
We appear to have watched the same FMQs.
Please can you tell me why the opposition while asking a question constantly refer to a script?
To me a question should be just that, not some party hacks words read out with the odd smart a**ed 'funny' thrown in.
Is there no spontaniety allowed?
Does it all have to be compiled and read ?
I have to say it sure does'nt work for me!

  • 15.
  • At 09:54 AM on 24 Mar 2008,
  • nurse bill wrote:

Brian,just as a by the by is there any real need at Holyrood for a first minister's question time?It seems such a throwback to what Westminster does that I do wish that another way could be found,if needed.I wonder what the other nations in the "arc of prosperity"do for such a purpose.It all sounds so shallow,rehearsed and very punch and judy.There are already other opportunities for questions to ministers,which FMQ seems to duplicate,and asking questions based on what scandal is in the papers that morning seems designed only to trip people up unnecessarily to make a yah-boo point.Not a very grown up way for my hoped for grown up parliament to behave!

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