BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian

Archives for June 5, 2008

Rough business

Brian Taylor | 13:14 UK time, Thursday, 5 June 2008


Don't you just love that written answer from the Scottish Government to a question from Annabel Goldie?

I quote, in full: "Blah". End quote. And the Tory response? "D'oh!" Perfect.

Ministers insist it was simply a slip, an incorrect draft delivered only to the media. The formal version was somewhat more detailed.

Two thoughts. Firstly, the default political response to most journalistic inquiries is, in effect, blah. That may be why the media version was so admirably concise.

Secondly, far from apologising, the Scottish Government should extend this approach. Most written questions could be covered by "blah", "tosh" or "go away", followed by a link to the website where the information can be obtained.

In Holyrood today, the Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson appeared to think there was a little too much blah.

As is his habit, Alex Salmond closed his responses to Wendy Alexander by throwing a question back to the Labour leader.

Zero sympathy

Mr Fergusson has faced occasional mutterings from the Labour benches that he should be tougher on the first minister, that he should somehow demand answers that MSPs are apparently unable to prise out of the government.

On this occasion, the PO had had enough. He gently reminded Mr Salmond that the event was billed as questions to the first minister - not to opposition leaders.

Then he allowed Ms Alexander another intervention. I think he was right to do so.

However, I have minimal, indeed zero, sympathy with calls for the PO to intervene more generally. Politics is a rough business. It's up to MSPs to put their points in a fashion which exposes the claimed vacuity of their opponents.

As long as a minister is in order - that is, sticking to Holyrood rules - the PO can't and shouldn't intervene. Mr Fergusson is right to resist such suggestions.

Turning to substance, Ms Alexander pursued the issue of "education cuts", making some reasonable points.

In particular, she cited a motion to be discussed by the teaching union, the EIS, tomorrow which includes the option of possible industrial action in protest at local authority decisions which the union believes will have a "deleterious effect on education services".

Silent killer

The impact of Ms Alexander's attack was somewhat deflated when the FM pointed out that there had been similar motions for possible industrial action during the years when Labour led the Executive.

Mr Salmond also successfully deflected the attack by pointing to efforts to cut class sizes, in line with his manifesto promise, in several local authorities, including one led by Labour.

For the Tories, Annabel Goldie, as she frequently does, chose to pursue an issue where she is seeking consensual progress rather than partisan gain.

She sought action on Scotland's poor record in dealing with the "silent killer" of thrombosis. It was a well pitched plea, prompting a sympathetic response.

As so often, the sharpest, most straightforward attack came from Nicol Stephen of the Liberal Democrats.

He cited a progressive decline in the budget of the Glasgow Science Centre, noting that this scarcely squared with the Scottish Government hailing a "bright future" for the venue.

Mr Salmond's response was a rather longer version of the written reply given to the Tories. For which, see above.


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