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You say, they do

Brian Taylor | 14:57 UK time, Thursday, 17 January 2008

Today’s session of questions to the first minister provided a wide range of topics. Not all of them in Wendy Alexander’s opening attack.

It isn’t easy, opposition. Your ministerial adversary has the last word, often carefully scripted by one of their army of advisers. You say things, they do things. They have the power.

Cast your mind back to the first two devolved parliaments. Neither Alex Salmond nor John Swinney were, as I recall, consistently successful in destabilising successive first ministers (or their occasional LibDem stand-in, Jim Wallace.)

I remember Jack McConnell conceding, with delightful frankness, that he was “havering” and so would resume his seat.

I remember Mr McLeish suggesting that his opponents should pay heed to a word beginning with "H" and ending in "Y". To general glee, the late, great Margaret Ewing shouted “Henry!”.

I remember, of course, the said Henry being brought down by the dogged pursuit of David McLetchie - or, rather, by the failure of the FM to close down the issue of his Westminster constituency allowances.

Perhaps my memory is failing. Perhaps my senses are still jangling from the sheer euphoria of United’s cup triumph against the might that is Clyde.

But I confess I don’t recall many moments when the SNP leader, in opposition, utterly discomfited the FM.

So it’s tough. It’s hard. Still and all, that was not a good showing by Labour’s Wendy Alexander in the chamber today.

For one thing, she lacked focus. She opened with an appetiser: the fate of sportscotland. She moved without pausing onto the topic of youth courts.

Then she segued into the subject of police numbers and pensions.

Any one of those topics, rigorously pursued, might have provided a challenge to the first minister. (Although, see caveats above.) Raising all three prompted the conclusion that the Labour leader was unsure in her attack strategy.

Secondly, she was outshone by Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen, each of whom has now developed a familiar formula.

Ms Goldie opens with a droll funny - then builds to a staged conclusion. Today it was that the “block-headed parochial dogma” of the SNP over nuclear power could jeopardise Scotland’s energy supply.

Nicol Stephen is Mr Angry. Each week, he is outraged and indignant over something or other.

This week, he was furious at the sacking of Dougie Donnelly and Julia Bracewell from Scotland’s national sports agencies.

Who, he roared, would the public trust? Dougie Donnelly or Stewart Maxwell?

One, I need hardly add, is a national broadcasting treasure. The other is the sports minister who was obliged to apologise to MSPs for mishandling his announcement re the future of sportscotland.

It was, of course, all contrived. But, on the day, it was curiously effective. It was, at the very minimum, a sustained and memorable attack.

Now, Labour MSPs constantly grumble that the first minister dodges questions. Some have even begun to mutter that the presiding officer should intervene, neglecting the doctrine that the chair is responsible for order, not content.

Yes, Alex Salmond deploys rhetorical devices. Wit, satire, lengthy lists, awkward quotes thrown back in the face. It’s called politics.

Labour needs to contrive to counter the first minister, not complain about him. Although, I say again, it’s tough.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 04:10 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Scott wrote:

I really don’t know what I’m missing but several commentators in the Scottish media, including Mr Taylor, consistently comment on Nicol Steven’s great performances at FMQs? Is it just me who find his attacks unstimulating and uninspiring? I find him incredibly dull and lacking in any kind of political charisma or oomf. I think his ‘serious’ face comes across as somewhat constipated and his ‘cheeky grin’ quite creepy.

It’s nothing to do with his party politics but I think he is like an awkward character from The Office or a tedious parent a teacher might dread seeing at parents night.

Anyway today’s FMQs for me ingrained my opinion of him and I just cant think that I am alone in this. I’ve never noticed any overtly pro-libdem sections of the press so I cant imagine why they are out to stave his plummeting popularity by singing his praises.

But then again maybe I’m just wrong and Nicol really is charismatic and successful debater.

  • 2.
  • At 04:20 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • wes h wrote:

It was, of course, all contrived. But, on the day, it was curiously effective."


Nicol Stephen? Comments curiously effective!??

Brian-could I PLEASE have some of what you must be quaffing at the moment?

What sort of parallel universe do you inhabit Brian? Is this a brief visit from the planet Zog?

  • 3.
  • At 04:23 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen wrote:

Hi Brian,

Kinda agree with most that you said.

Labour are proving to be a poor opposition, and wendygate is like a lead wieght around their necks.

The nuclear power debate is one worth having, with Scotlands weather being such a changable companion what happens when future fierce storms shut down off/on shore wind and tidal power production. Would we have the redundant capacity to deal with this. Or would we be operating by candle light dependant on favourable weather conditions? Although an SNP supporter , im not convinced a small modern Nuclear powerstation is not a good emergency investment.

I agree that the Tories are acting incredibly sensible, dealing with whats available to get the best interests for their voters and scotland alike (never ever thought Id say that as I left school in the late 80s with very little employment due to the thatcher years).

Although I do disagree with your Nicol comments, yes he is mr Angry but he is lashing out like a deranged fool. Is dougie donnely of national importance say compared to the nuclear debate. He,s angry about the govs decision to call in the Trump proposal and smells sleaze (probably his nose is too near the Lab benches). However the continuing Trump enquiry is making him look like the grandstanding PT Barnam of scottish politics. Lots of bluster and shomanship very little substance or character.

  • 4.
  • At 04:28 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Quote made last week about how Nicol Stephen compared in a poll on the Holyrood party leaders, "A mighty four per cent of the population are impressed with the performance of Nicol Stephen as an opposition leader."

I suppose 4% represents a good week for Mr Angry.

As for Little Miss Calamity, Wendy Alexander, the consequences for her party at Holyrood are dire. The sooner they dump her the better.

  • 5.
  • At 04:28 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Ross McLean wrote:

The SNP posters on this board live in another world from the rest of Scotland. Normal people live in a world where we judge every performance indivudually, criticising where it is right to do so, and similarly giving credit where it is due. They (the SNP fans) pre-judge every event, decide that people who oppose independence are automatically numpties incapable of ever succeseding or being right, and resolutely refuse to allow the possibility that someone can have a good day. I know which of the 2 approaches is more representative of Scottish fairness. Nicol wasn't always good at FMQs - he took a while to develop an oppositionist style - but he has got better and yes he had a good day today. If people are incapable of seeing that it says more about them than about him.

  • 6.
  • At 04:38 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • iain morrison wrote:

Wee Nich is angry because the people responsible for promoting sport and fitness in Scotland have been fired. Given that under their tenure we have become the fattest Nation in Europe, how bad do they have to be before Wee Nic is not outraged. Oh sorry forgot he is still missing his pal Joke, he didn't seem to think he should be sacked either.

  • 7.
  • At 04:40 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Sandra wrote:

No Scott you are not alone! I too find N. Stephen a pain........and none too sure about 'debating'. No charisma, no 'passion' and am left wondering what I just do not see that the press (sometimes) do.
Re W A - She just seems to be going through the motion of asking questions and does not appear to listen to the response and picking up on it to press a point ie debating. She seems to be programmed on to a loop which is replayed and replayed. AG does make a bit of an effort.

At least Holyrood is not yet, subjected to the charade by A. Neil at PMQ where the 'scores' are added up. Anything less like a 'proper' debate is difficult to see and is counterproductive as it is the biggest switch-off to Politics I know, and is NOT government.

Please Brian and co, refuse to be drawn down that road and try to force the politicians into DEBATING ie picking up points;asking explanations;probing for more details and that goes for all sides of the chamber

  • 8.
  • At 04:56 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Auld_Reekie wrote:

"It was, of course, all contrived. But, on the day, it was curiously effective. It was, at the very minimum, a sustained and memorable attack."

Just watched it and I dont see what was especially effective or memorable? Nicol Stephen seems to suggest that Dougie is above being asked to step-down because hes a media personality... Ive still seen nothing that outlines why Dougie deserves such protection, or why he is better or more qualifed than Ms Bracewell.

Two bodies have been merged into one - rather than show preference like Nicol Stephen and some of the media would like, I think its only fair that both are treated equally and fairly. Alex Salmond dealt with it swiftly and surely and yet its ignored?

  • 9.
  • At 04:57 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • DJ wrote:

Brian, as someone who delighted in Robsons goal at a freezing Broadwood last night, I am as happy as you when it comes to assessing PMQ's.
I indeed agree with your assessment. Wendy would have been more sensible to attack one aspect - this week there were a number - and why she left it to Nicol to have a good go over Sport is well beyond me. Doesnt she have any decent advisers?

Scott - I agree. It's his complete inability to even pretend to be spontaneous that really irritates. Everything is read word-for-word-in-the-same-monotonous-voice-without-looking-up-from-the-paper....
Also, having had to work with civil servants from what was his department, I can tell you that as a Minister, he was absolutely dire. The laziest man in politics. So, no. I'm afraid that I will never consider him to be competent or inspiring.

  • 11.
  • At 05:07 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Tim Clarke wrote:

As you say Brian, neither Alex Salmond nor John Swinney were consistently successful in destabilising first ministers. What sets Wendy Alexander so far apart from any opposition in the history of Holyrood (or for that matter Westminster) is her consistency in being so appalling at her job every week. She's a disaster for her party. Surely you must be tired of trying to prop her image up when she gives you so little to work with.

  • 12.
  • At 05:10 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • PMK wrote:

Nicol Stephen is a joke, the only reason he could possibly "outshine" Wendy Alexander (talk about setting the bar low!) is that he is not fighting off consequences of previous illegal activities (yet).

  • 13.
  • At 05:34 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Murphy wrote:

Scott - Nicol Stephen has been the only party leader to be effective in holding the SNP Government to account. The Tories are too busy cosying up to Salmond and striking back-room deals, and Labour are simply a disaster. The reason the press like the Lib Dems at the moment is that they alone are pointing out the Government's hypocrisy and complete disregard for government procuedure.

  • 14.
  • At 05:42 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Harry Shanks wrote:

#1 Scott

You are absolutely correct - Nicol Stephen has no personality, has poor delivery and is no match for Alex Salmond. His "smell of sleaze" contribution and Salmond's devastating response to it showed the lack of political nous from this lightweight politician.


Quite why the media (and it's only recently) are promoting him and hyping him up as some sort of bete noire I just cannot understand. Every week he is slapped down.

I can only guess it is because the last person they promoted and hyped up to this ludicrous extent (you know - the one with the formidible intellect who was going to have Salmond on the ropes every Thurdsay) - has infact turned out to be nothing more than a damp squib.

  • 15.
  • At 06:03 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Alex Cox wrote:

Brian

I would agree with much of the article, though again like most other posters I am a Little puzzled by the media's reluctance to be critical of Nicol Stephen. Every week, he performs his abysmal Mr Angry routine and Alex Salmond has him for breakfast.

Wendy Alexander seems to be surviving with the ongoing good grace of everyone in the country continuing to fail to mention the elephant in the room that is her donor scandal. That will not last; at the moment she's a lame duck. The first time she sheds her timidity and lands a blow on Salmond she will rapidly become a dead duck.

Annabel Goldie is the best opposition performer in parliament right now, and by a distance. The Tories of course have found a unique niche in Holyrood - they have renounced any desire for power, preferring to wrench concessions on an issue-by-issue basis. This is a good strategy and shows that the Scots Tories are more than familiar with their place in the food chain.

In future, if we can assume that the largest party from now on will be either Labour or the SNP, perhaps the Lib Dems could be persuaded to engage a similar strategy to the Tories? That way, they would be much more likely to get policies and concessions through the budget. If not, and if the Mr Angry act is to remain, perhaps Labour and the Lib Dems would be good enough to present only one candidate per constituency between them? After all, they appear for all the world to be indistinguishable.

  • 16.
  • At 06:25 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • George Laird wrote:

I see that Wendy Alexander is still Labour Leader at Holyrood, each week she manages to fail to shine.

She possibly realises that the end of her quest for First Minister salary is over.

You cannot help but wonder if people feel sorry for such a dud!

Roll on next week and another forced performance from her.

  • 17.
  • At 06:38 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Jimmy G wrote:

I've got to agree Brian, the lamentable Hector Nicol is beginning at last to make a decent fist of his couple of questions.
But alas poor Wendy... the strangled way she attempts to maintain Glesgow Sotto voce, while struggling to throttle back the never far away fishwife in her throat, is truly cringe worthy. I can't even listen to what she's actually saying; my weakness I know, and I feel very small for it...

  • 18.
  • At 06:40 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Ayrshireman wrote:

Auntie Annabel outshines the lot. Stern when needs must, she can hand out a handbagging or two; but more often witty and playful and - dare I say it - flirty. And no one wants to be rude to her.....not least Eck because he knows he's most likely to get Tory votes if he's a good boy. How Nicol and Wendy must seeth with envy!

  • 19.
  • At 06:54 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Keith, West Lothian wrote:

Like Brian my memory is failing and I have forgotten (like several others) what this blog is about.

I haven't seen today’s events yet but have found some of the comments interesting. I would like to address Ross's comments (no: 5) asking why all Nat bloggers are so presumptuous? Eh, because we're Nats and don't want them getting a bashing.

Scottish fairness? Nicol Stephen seems alright, a bloke you’d have a pint with. As Brian says he’s always angry though. Seems he’s trying to give his good delivery some real substance but so far I haven’t seen him do it. Annabel Goldie is likeable, good humoured and I enjoy listening to her attacks on the Nats because, like Nicol’s, they lack substance. Alex Salmond is without a doubt the best leader of any Scottish Party and is likely to be for some time. Wendy Alexander had a moment where there was a sparkle of leadership but it went out before it came to anything.

I consider this to be fair.

  • 20.
  • At 07:15 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Robbie wrote:

Isn't The Scottish Arts Council merging with Screen Scotland to form a new body?

I presume that the Government will be dismissing Chairs of both organisations as Mr Salmond says that in such circumstances it’s the only thing to do.

I've not heard any indication that Richard Holloway is to be sacked as Chair of the Arts Council or indeed that Ray Macfarlane is being sacked as chair of Screen Scotland…. Oh hang I’m just reading that Richard Holloway is to be chair of the new body, Creative Scotland, and Ray Macfarlane is to be a member of the board.

But I’m sure the First Minister wasn’t being in anyway disingenuous when he insisted that Dougie Donnelly and Julia Bracewell had to be sacked for procedural reasons. I’m sure it was nothing to do with their public criticism of the Government.

  • 21.
  • At 07:28 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Scottish Patriot wrote:

These SNP posters are hopeless. No ability to look beyond their own narrow sectarian vision and take a more pragmatic approach. So much for the new politics!

  • 22.
  • At 07:41 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • L Telfer wrote:

Wee Nicola should consider a career change, maybe teaching primary school or scarecrowing. Nicol Stephen should go back to "c " list Law practice,maybe if he joins the National Trust and works hard he could get on to Aberdeen Council.

  • 23.
  • At 08:01 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Pendragon wrote:

I am sure Ms Alexander was a bright and precocious Young Thing in the University Student Union,but sadly for Her, Parliament is many steps up from there.Her points are always trivial and unfocused,her tone shrill and desperate.
The FM must be hoping her tenure as Labour Leader will be a long one.
Worryingly for Labour, a glance around the Opposition Benches does not really suggest an obvious alternative.

  • 24.
  • At 08:26 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Stewart wrote:

Wendy's first problem is her research is usually very poor - that standard was set in her first week. Secondly, her choice of issue tends to be poor. She stayed on the ringfencing issue for too long. Thirdly, she's not flexible enough to adapt to the answer. She's been quite poor as Labour struggle to adapt to opposition and her position is weak due to the scandal.

Annabelle Goldie is the only opposition leader who has landed a punch on Salmond and not just once. She has stuck to the general theme of crime which is getting a bit repetetive but plays well to Conservative voters. She knows what she's talking about, she has done some research, she uses wit well and she can adapt to the answer.

Nicol Stephen has several problems. He is not a good public speaker. He has to follow Annabelle Goldie which always makes him look worse and he isn't even the most effective amongst Lib Dems - everybody knows that Tavish Scott is doing a far better job. The new Mr Angry does not suit him well and it is clear that he is doing this to get his party back on side after his disaterous performance on the Trump issue. If he doesn't up his game soon he'll no longer be Lib Dem leader.

  • 25.
  • At 08:42 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Bryce Miller wrote:

The trouble for Nicol Stephen is that his delivery is wooden, and he never seems to be able to put things into the correct proportion. It's always angry and over-the-top.

I must say I'm most impressed with Annabell Goldie. It seems that she, and as a consequence the Tories as a party, really knows how to work a minority administration, and get some of their own policies through.

Labour and the LibDems are play second fiddle right now, and need to change from confrontation to co-operation if they want some of their policies passed this parliament.

04:28 PM on 17 Jan 2008, Ross McLean wrote:
"They (the SNP fans) pre-judge every event, decide that people who oppose independence are automatically numpties incapable of ever succeseding or being right, and resolutely refuse to allow the possibility that someone can have a good day."

As opposed to the non-SNP fans, who tar every SNP supporter with the same brush. Hardly fair that, now is it?

  • 26.
  • At 09:41 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Jigger wrote:

Brian, old fruit. One assumes you are enamoured of Nicky Stef because it is impossible to work up any enthusiasm for Miss Wendy.
This is entirely logical from your viewpoint - after all, you can't praise the Tories and as for the SNP, well, Hell would freeze over first...

  • 27.
  • At 10:29 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Colin wrote:

Have to agree that Annabel is the strongest opposition leader - but "Taxi for" McLetchie would also be standing out, given the competition.

  • 28.
  • At 12:31 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • David Birse wrote:

For me the "Scottish" Labour Party are still reeling from their defeat and they do not have a clue in which direction they are supposed to go in. For over 50 years Scotland was the Labour parties fieldom and they thought they were untouchable in this country. With Wendy Alexander and her ilk am I the only person that feels the constant barracking is boring and that she is solely lacking as a Leader. Broken promise this and a broken promise that - what it is sounding like from the opposition is a broken record. Give it up.

We constantly hear from the people that MSP's, MP's, MEP's, Local Councillors are not worth their money or not good enough. I like the quote from Plato which states "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors". So for the people out there that feel they can do a better job - go out there and do it. If you don't want their job remember people had to move heaven and earth to get the right to vote in the past. If you currently don't vote start at the next elections - it is important to do so. But when you do so remember Labour is no longer for the working person. They are in power because they realised they have to peddle to the middle class, families and women. If you don't fall into these categories Labour are not interested. If you don't believe me look at their policies in more depth.

I also see Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen are more effective at the moment with their single issue attack rather than Wendy's multi pronged, shotgun approach.

Still very difficult times for Wendy Alexander of course but her last couple of TV interviews showed her with a freshness and jauntiness that we haven't seen since naughty-donations gate.

Looks like she's been given the nod from the electoral commission.....either that or she's been offered a high paying job as Tony's assistant in the Middle East after she resigns so she's past caring.

  • 30.
  • At 07:53 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • The frustrated brigade wrote:

I find the whole topic of Scottish politics depressing. They are little more than overpaid, underemployed councillors who spend the majority of their time dreaming up ways to spend our hard earned taxes on themselves first and grandoise schemes second. Why are the debates never about concret proposals to make Scotland attractive to investors and wealth creating businesses? Why has Salmond not put his much quoted phrase Carpe Diem into action?
As for Nicol Stephen, that master of procrastination, he was invisible most of the tiome as Enterprise Minister or Minister for Transport. Oh! except when we lobbed the grenade of the Aberdeenshire WPR decision to Tavis Scott.Probaly hoping it would blow up in his face thus keeping his hands clean and eliminating a competitor.

  • 31.
  • At 08:49 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Don Sutherland wrote:

Nicol Stephen gets talked about simply because there is no-one else effectively holding Salmond to task. I hesitated a bit before I wrote 'effectively' because it is barely true - he is awful to watch and hear, but he is persistent and seems to be approaching a level of slight competence, so signs of improvement. W Alexander doesn't really show any signs of improvement and certainly little promise.

As for the grand lady of the chamber, she rather reminds me of Tony Benn in Westminster - great orator, entertaining and always a great draw. But because they are both quite independantly minded (in the political party sense), their challenge doesn't have the same impact as someone who has thwe support of a political party behind them - the lone voice of reason in the wilderness.

  • 32.
  • At 09:27 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Vronsky wrote:

I'm also puzzled by press enthusiasm for Stephen. The Lib Dems political marketing strategy is to project an image of a mature, sane and independent viewpoint (kept my face straight there).

Nicol seems the antithesis of this, to the point where I wonder that there isn't a grass-roots movement against him in his own party. His histrionics over the Trump affair, at most a procedural irregularity, contrast markedly with his silence over the confessed illegality of Wendy's doings. It's a striking silence, and looks a lot like an obedient silence. He can't claim that it's sub judice- it isn't, and probably never will be.

Agree that Goldie is most effective, and has been from Day One. She sticks to the point and her jokes are funny. What one poster describes disapprovingly as 'striking back-room deals' another I think more accurately describes as 'wrenching concessions' out of government. That's the opposition's job, and neither Stephen nor Alexander is trying.

Given the significant overlap of policies in the SNP and Lib Dem manifestos, Stephen should be doing a roaring trade in 'back-room deals', but with Alexander he seems content simply to fling a stream of jibes and accusations - he might as well just be writing on this forum!

  • 33.
  • At 09:42 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Vronsky wrote:

I'm also puzzled by press enthusiasm for Stephen. The Lib Dems political marketing strategy is to project an image of a mature, sane and independent viewpoint (kept my face straight there).

Nicol seems the antithesis of this, to the point where I wonder that there isn't a grass-roots movement against him in his own party. His histrionics over the Trump affair, at most a procedural irregularity, contrast markedly with his silence over the confessed illegality of Wendy's doings. It's a striking silence, and looks a lot like an obedient silence. He can't claim that it's sub judice- it isn't, and probably never will be.

Agree that Goldie is most effective, and has been from Day One. She sticks to the point and her jokes are funny. What one poster describes disapprovingly as 'striking back-room deals' another I think more accurately describes as 'wrenching concessions' out of government. That's the opposition's job, and neither Stephen nor Alexander is trying.

Given the significant overlap of policies in the SNP and Lib Dem manifestos, Stephen should be doing a roaring trade in 'back-room deals', but with Alexander he seems content simply to fling a stream of jibes and accusations - he might as well just be writing on this forum!

  • 34.
  • At 10:17 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Alex answered and obfuscated
Wendy highlighted her weaknesses
Nicol bored with his obsessions
Annabel preserved her credibility

  • 35.
  • At 10:29 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Anonymous wrote:

Well comment number one grasped the nettle very well. The teacher fed up with hearing fae wee Jimmy's Da is the perfect description of the Nicol. No Idea, skills, charisma, probably the most useless waste of money in Scottish Politics. Second only to Wendy who is actualy doing a great job of getting the Labour faithful to think about changing 50 years of voting habit, great.

With regards to the Nuclear comments earlier. I cannot support Nuclear power, it may be clean on a day to day basis but imagine a Chernobyl type situation in Scotland. Politics and the future wont matter after that. I know there are many say it couldnt happen but it can. The russians would have said it couldnt happen, Piper Alpha couldnt happen, the Titanic couldnt sink, SNP couldnt get control of Scotland, Trumps golf course couldnt fail. I will take CO2 over Nuclear any day. Why not keep working on Wind and Wave power etc. The fuel cell is on its way and Nuclear would then just be Billions of pounds for our future generations to pay.

  • 36.
  • At 10:35 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Vronsky wrote:

I'm also puzzled by press enthusiasm for Stephen. The Lib Dems political marketing strategy is to project an image of a mature, sane and independent viewpoint (kept my face straight there).

Nicol seems the antithesis of this, to the point where I wonder that there isn't a grass-roots movement against him in his own party. His histrionics over the Trump affair, at most a procedural irregularity, contrast markedly with his silence over the confessed illegality of Wendy's doings. It's a striking silence, and looks a lot like an obedient silence. He can't claim that it's sub judice- it isn't, and probably never will be.

Agree that Goldie is most effective, and has been from Day One. She sticks to the point and her jokes are funny. What one poster describes disapprovingly as 'striking back-room deals' another I think more accurately describes as 'wrenching concessions' out of government. That's the opposition's job, and neither Stephen nor Alexander is trying.

Given the significant overlap of policies in the SNP and Lib Dem manifestos, Stephen should be doing a roaring trade in 'back-room deals', but with Alexander he seems content simply to fling a stream of jibes and accusations - he might as well just be writing on this forum!

  • 37.
  • At 10:49 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Mary McKay wrote:

Scottish policitcs is poliarising between the pro Scottish forward thinking nationalists and the backward hand wringing unionists.

Oh if god could give us the goft to see ourselves as othrs see us?

You'd see the above!

And if you were a European or American wishing to invest in Scotland, which camp woud you favour?

Answers on a post card to .........

MM Mc

  • 38.
  • At 10:52 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Alex answered and obfuscated
Wendy highlights her weaknesses
Nicol bored with his obsessions
Annabel preserved her credibility

  • 39.
  • At 10:59 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Chris M wrote:

I have to say that a nuclear power station, even a small one, is a rediculous idea. The design, to the best of my knowledge, is still the same old 60's uranium based models, albeit tweeked for 2007, or should that be 2012 models or whenever these monstrous and pathetic "generators" begin producing energy. I have to say that compared to even a small gas generator, nuclear is absolutely no match at all and to be stuck on uranium based plants is incredible given the focus on (and I hesitate to use the word) cleaner designs that incorporate thorium. Surely the progressive government that presides in Westminister could research such a reactor in England? I guess no but given the amounts of waste (keep in mind everything is waste in nuclear: bowel and bladder movements, waste thrown away and reactor waste) that must be buried for 125 000 years, shutdowns and danger of these uranium based reactors, I think Westminister should just keep them to themselves. Sure oil will run out as will gas and we have hardly any sun but to jump at an easy chance, I have to say, is not like Labour at all, absolutely no way!

  • 40.
  • At 11:14 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Sinclair McGunn wrote:

Nicol Stevens is a man of the highest principal and greatest intellect. I think we in Scotland should be thankful of our good fortune that this man has decided to stay amongst his "ain folk".

Each and every day for the past two months, I as a Caithness exile in Grampian, thank Mr Steven for his efforts to decrease employment in the region and prevent that upstart trump from giving region high wage, high skill, sustainable and low carbon emmision jobs.

Mr Steven - Thank you!

Sinc

  • 41.
  • At 11:56 AM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Colin wrote:

Vronsky #32.
You've just summed things up better than Brian. Bang on!

Salmond - performing well and getting an easy ride

Goldie - effective and doing a good job for her party in terms of policy concessions and image. Amazing turnaround in Tory prospects (although from a very low starting point!)

Steven - missing the opportunities that Goldie is taking. Caught in an unexplainable self destructive hate cycle.

Alexander - Party is in the same hate cycle as the Libs, but at least you can understand why, given the loss of such long standing power. Individually her hands are tied by Wendygate and she has effectively been neutered.

  • 42.
  • At 12:31 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Albanna wrote:

I agree with Vronsky about Nicol Stephen's erratic histrionics. He's not a "Mr. Angry," Brian. I'd call him a "Master Tantrum."

  • 43.
  • At 12:49 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • DJ wrote:

It is unfortunate, Brian, that your blog has become a forum for nats to vent their spleen against those who, well, are not nats, but...
Nicol Stephen, I would suggest had a terrible election last May. Was, as posters describe above, lacking in energy, enthusiasm and charisma. However, he was told in no uncertain terms by his party to get his act together - and he has.
He is articulate, forceful and able to get himself heard in a way that Wendy never has.
Unlike the nats, we do not claim our leader is some sort of deity, however, he is a much better politician than he was last year, and it appears to me that the nats have neither forgiven him for jilting them at the alter last year nor for suggesting that the messiah was it it with a wealthy businessman. Perish the thought that the messiah may have done acted in a similar way if the shoe was on the other foot...

  • 44.
  • At 01:23 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Tom Berney wrote:

Wendy's question was hopelessly confused and her follow ups barely related to it. It is quite right and proper that Labour should opppose the government but she keeps picking longer term issues that are inherited from the Labour/LibDem pact. Blaming SNP for the Police Pensions time bomb, for example, when they have only been in office for six months was just plain daft. No one has any idea what Scottish Labour stands for these days they are entirely negative.

If people were judging solely on FM performances the Tories would be the second Party in Scotland. It is hard to in imagine a bigger indictment of Labour than that.

  • 45.
  • At 01:31 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • CassiusClaymore wrote:

I love how Nicol Stephen claims to have been in business before politics - the reality was that he was a very junior bag carrier in an accountancy firm. This inexperience in the real world is all too apparent in what he says and does.

He's not the only one of course - sadly our parliament, and Westminster too, is stuffed full of professional politicians who know a lot about politics and very little about anything else.

  • 46.
  • At 01:50 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Ross McLean wrote:

#19 if all Nats were as fairminded as you are there would be no problem. But I was talking about those colleagues of yours - much more numerous, it seems - who are completely nutty on these blogs and have no sense of fair play whatsoever.

This topic is a case in point. You describe Nicol as a guy to have a pint with. I think that's pretty fair. Most fair-minded normal people would say he is not dynamic or memorable, maybe even a little dull - but at roots a decent enough bloke. Yes? Well, here are just some of the words your SNP colleagues have used about him - just in this stream of messages: 'creepy,' 'tedious,' 'a deranged fool,' 'wee Nic,' 'irritating,' 'a pain,' 'a joke,' 'abysmal,' 'lamentable,' 'Hector Nicol,' 'a c-list lawyer,' 'disasterous,' 'wooden,' 'Nicky Steph,' and 'awful.'

Now, of course people are entitled to their opinions. That's what blogs are for. But seriously, do you think this kind of language - against someone who is basically so inoffensive - is rational??

And I say this in all seriousness: the real danger for your party is that they are turning some people people off voting SNP again. You can take my word for it because I am one of them!

  • 47.
  • At 02:23 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • John Baxter wrote:

I agree, Wendy is a lame duck and anyone with even a finger on the pulse of Labour voters in Scotland would privately agree. But who to promote?

Nuclear Power, now there's a pig in a poke. Produces 18% of UK electricity but at present 4 out of the 10 plants are at present not working due to "Technical problems" needs massive investment. Using the maggie formuala in which she closed the coal mines, nuclear power should be dead in the water.

Tories, Anabell Goldie. Does appear to have Scotlands interests at heart and effective in parliament.

Nicholl Stephen, has forgetten he's supposed to be Liberal. Nose is far too often too close to the Labour benches for comfort.

Alex Salmond, appears to have authority and as long as Wendy asks the questions will continue to look good. I think he could do with a more focused adversary.

Scottish Politics - wonderful!

  • 48.
  • At 02:50 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Richard the Rogue wrote:

#44 Ross,

Much more numerous? I hope not. Is it not possible that it is simply a case of the empty vessel making the most noise?

I too, think #19 Keith's assessment was a fair one, and I'd like to think that your future voting intentions will be based on your own independent and considered assessment of where Scotland's future lies, and not let it be swayed too much by others of whatever political persuasion.

Agreeing to disagree is, I think, the essence of democracy. Minding one's manners helps too. (That's as much a reminder to self as anything.)

  • 49.
  • At 03:33 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • JohnMcDonald wrote:

I am unashamedly pro-independence. However, I am not blind to the qualities of the opposition.

Can't quite work out why so many people are down on Wendy Alexander's performances. Sure her strategy isn't brilliant but she is not a bad performer.

Ms Goldie would be a great dinner party guest but on the other hand she has to depend too much on a - let's face it - pretty lame use of sarcasm.

Nicol Stephens allows his personal animosity to ruin what presentational skills he might have.

Of course Alex is good but he is having a bit of a free run. It won't last for ever but I'm enjoying it while it lasts. So much so that I was annoyed today when iTunes was having a problem giving me Thursday's FMQs podcast!!

  • 50.
  • At 03:56 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Alex Brodie, Edinburgh wrote:

#29 Brian Hill - Shhhhhh!!! We're all supposed to be too stupid to notice that Wendy's been given the nod! If you go on like that they might realise that everything they do is actually as transparent as a five-year-old, accused of concealing a toy, dropping it onto the floor behind her back, then showing you her hands are empty!! That is how obvious it was to me, and I'm sure to the vast majority of the Scottish people. It just about sums up Wendy's response when she was caught with her fingers in the till. The shame of it is the way the Scottish media rallied to her defence, trying to muddy the waters with nonsensical accusations against Salmond, and how long it has taken the Electoral Commission to admit that her publicly admitted wrong-doing is clearly a matter for the police. She is now unelectable and so they are no doubt very busy finding another plumb "apolitical" role for her, involving copious amounts of taxpayers' money for doing very little. That's probably why it's taking so long!

  • 51.
  • At 04:05 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Man o' Moray wrote:

Mr Stephen is not a bad guy, but his rhetoric is too melodromatic for my liking. I do think he is the weakest of the party leaders. It's a shame about Dougie Donnely, but the amalgamation of the twoi agency was the right decision. As for Stewart Maxwell, I do do not rate him, along with Fergus Ewing.

  • 52.
  • At 04:11 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • Dougthedug wrote:

At 01:50 PM on 18 Jan 2008, Ross McLean wrote:

"...against someone who is basically so inoffensive..."

"inoffensive - not offensive; not objectionable; causing no harm, discomfort, or annoyance."
From: http://www.yourdictionary.com/inoffensive

I don't regard Nicol Stephen as inoffensive.

He's caused a lot of annoyance and tied up Parliamentary time with his empty noise and fury about the Trump development and he's been objectionable in his attempts to divert attention from Ms. Alexander's illegal donations problem by shouting about Trump in the media.

He's also causing harm to democracy in Scotland with his participation in the Lib-Lab-Con alliance whose sole purpose is to disenfranchise the 32% of voters who voted SNP by ensuring that the independence option is not even discussed in the Parliamentary Commission on the Constitution. The "Wendy Commission" as it is popularly known.

I certainly rate him as an offensive man.

  • 53.
  • At 05:34 PM on 18 Jan 2008,
  • PMK wrote:

I wish to point out that it is not only so-called "Nats" that use extreme polarising language. Nonsense about "separatism", dishonouring the war dead and even "fascism" are casually thrown-about by the more extreme supporters of the union. Nicol got people's backs up by using language in a cavalier fashion himself: namely "sleaze". Clearly he did so without checking the dictionary first! Sleaze is taking illegal donations, it is unilaterally and improperly moving a major road project away from relative's homes, it is accepting a donation of £2.4 million from a convicted fraudster and refusing to pay it back.

But back to the point: I just cannot see how Nicol Stephen can be considered competent by anyone. He is indeed "Mr Angry"; but this is not normally justified anger, it is the anger of a toddler being ignored as the adults discuss the realities and ultimately cut a deal. Incidentally, it is the same rage shown by so many Labour MSPs who obviously feel dispossessed of their birth-right to govern.

I once attended a meeting at Strathclyde University where Nicol Stephen was the major draw, he was then Deputy First Minister: 15 people turned up. However, before he spoke that number dropped to 12! By contrast John McFall (Labour MP for West Dunbartonshire) drew a decent crowd, while – as one would expect - both George Galloway and Alex Salmond comfortably filled the hall.

Nicol lacks stature and a coherent parliamentary style … if you constantly cry wolf in opposition and are just generally angry the electorate eventually decide to ignore you. You need to be able to agree with the government in large areas and welcome certain decisions for your political attacks to count. If you constantly lash out you merely appear bitter and small. That’s how Nicol looks from here.

They don't describe him as a decent enough bloke if they live in certain areas of Aberdeen.
As far as I can see, the wonderful unionist postings are as questionable as the wonderful nationalist postings.
Neither of them win prizes for political correctness.
I am most pleased about that!

  • 55.
  • At 02:44 PM on 19 Jan 2008,
  • Ross McLean wrote:

#47 Richard: Yes I certainly will continue to vote on the basis of what I think is right for the future. But like any voter, that judgement is influenced by many factors, and one of those is the kind of people who populate the party to whom I am considering lending my support in any election.

I used to believe the SNP was a party of people who were passionate and committed to their cause, BUT were rational, fair-minded and - in the best tradition of Scottish competitiveness - good-humoured and ready to give their opponents a fair hearing, and then maybe even happy to have the political equivalent of a pint together after the match! Reading the invective regularly spat out on sites like these gives me pause for thought about that. And yes it makes me wonder if this is the party I want to entrust with the future of Scotland.

Blogs and forums like this are part of the future of political communication, and they are read by a few of us genuine floating voters -often quietly and without posting messages so you don't always know we're here! You partisans (and yes this applies to all parties, but the SNP seem to be the worst offenders) really would do well to remember that when you comment here you are ambasssadors for your party, just as much as you are when you go canvassing or speak at a meeting. Passion and vision are attractive political qualities which will help attract support - especially when tempered with courtesy. But I can assure you that bile and vindictive sneering, and bitter OTT personalised attacks on individuals who merely take an opposing viewpoint to your own, are not.

  • 56.
  • At 12:43 PM on 20 Jan 2008,
  • David McEwan Hill wrote:

A Wendygate whitewash (which some seem to anticipate) would do Wendy Alexander more damage than anything else.
The SNP probably would be the winners as it would allow Wendy to remain as leader of the Opposition.
Only the media get worked up about FMQ. The average citizen has very little interest in it and it has little general effect on their perception of politics.
It however affects the way our pundits view our various Party leaders and to a greater and greater extent they determine who goes and who stays

Ross, you do some very selective reading if you think that 'bile ' moves in only one direction.
Personally,I am more concerned with the so called Scottish media which provides a very partisan view.I want news,not their biased opinion.
I want my country to thrive and therefore will support the party which in my view has the interests of Scotland firmly in first place.
Control the media and you can control the people.1984 and all that.
Frankly,I find your assertion that the SNP posters are those largely to blame for vitriol,ill considered and pompous.How do you know their voting habits?If they state x,y or z it should'nt be taken at face value.There are those who have successfully closed down comment by being utterly vulgar and vile.
Read some of the Scotsman site comments for a truly hair raising look at all posters.
Since the Scottish media is hell bent on promoting a unionist view ,it is more than a little important that other views can be expressed via the internet.

  • 58.
  • At 03:11 PM on 20 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen wrote:

Well Mr McLean,

Given that both SNP and unionist supporters are both as bad as each other, Alex and Annabel seem to be doing alright both with effective government and conviviality, and Nicol is angry yet again and wendy is seriously hampered by the donations scandal. Which party will you be voting for next time?

Solidarity perhaps

  • 59.
  • At 09:33 PM on 20 Jan 2008,
  • Ross McLean wrote:

I'm delighted to have provoked so much discussion. Maybe I'm due a portion of your salary Brian?

To #58 I didn't say the SNP and unionist supporters were 'equally' to blame. There are a snumber of very daft Labour-supporting people whose postings make ne cringe. But taking this board along with the Scotsman one and the (recently dismantled) Herald one, I think in general the SNP are by far the worst offenders on the petty comments and bile (though I accept of course that not all of them are guilty of it).

As people have expressed an interest in my voting record, I'm happy to tell you. Last May I voted SNP (constituency), Green (list) and LibDem (Council). In previous elections I have voted other such combinations, including Labour as well at times - though never Tory! I am not a member of any political party and vote as I think is right at the time. And yes, to repeat my main point, nasty spiteful vindictive comments (the worst ones are those that think they are funny!) from party supporters on websites are very likely to affect my intentions in the future. That's my right. And I'm not alone. Cheers, RM

  • 60.
  • At 11:29 PM on 20 Jan 2008,
  • Richard the Rogue wrote:

Ross, I fully understand what you're saying, and to a greater or lesser extent I agree. I agree that the language used on web forums can descend towards the gutter at an alarming rate, and people certainly seem free to say things about people that they certainly wouldn't say to their face, but as Dorothy points out, the problem is not limited to one particular party.

I would go further and suggest that this phenomena extends to almost any web forum on any topic open to the general public and some sociologist somewhere will produce an interesting paper about it some day. See 'Godwin's Law' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

I'd just like to assure you that we Nationalists are by and large normal, sensible, polite people. That's been my experience in the 'real world' at least. It's the same for supporters of other parties too.

Until nettiquette is taught at Higher grade, I suppose we'll all just have to try to look past the invective and divine the real arguments on each side.

  • 61.
  • At 12:58 PM on 21 Jan 2008,
  • Jimmy The Pict wrote:

Ross, there is absolutely no way you can attribute what is posted on this forum to a particular party.

Anyone can set up an email account and post the most vile post to tarnish another parties image by pretending to be that parties supporter.

Basing your voting on what is on a forum is not very wise.

Ross might I suggest a wee look at the Times 21st January,there you will find comment on the Oprah story of electronic hate mail because she had the temerity to back Obama and not Hillary.
You think the lunatic fringe is SNP ,not at all,they are EVERYWHERE and they walk among us!!

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