BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian
« Previous | Main | Next »

Debt Monster strikes back

Brian Taylor | 14:38 UK time, Thursday, 6 March 2008

The wry smile on Alex Salmond’s face told the story. That and the fact that he dodged the issue entirely.

He had been, temporarily, tackled. And the chamber knew it.

The issue? Student debt and the SNP’s pledge thereon. Do you remember the bold statements: “It’s time to dump student debt.”?

Do you remember the “debt monster”, a hideous cartoon beast besetting students? Only the SNP could slay it, apparently.

Nicol Stephen certainly remembers all this and he cited this evidence with vigour in challenging the FM.

The issue he raised was not the abandonment of the policy. The Lib Dem leader was challenging, instead, the apparent attempt to rewrite history.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop, he said, had gone so far as to deny there was ever any pledge to “write off” student debt.

Servicing debts

It was one thing, he suggested, to deny breaking promises. It was going rather too far to deny making them in the first place.

At the time, in the chamber, this was a palpable hit. The general view afterwards - even including some Nationalists - was that Mr Stephen had won this particular exchange.

What’s the substance behind this? To be entirely fair, it was made plain during last year’s election that the SNP did not intend to write off the debt in one go.

Rather they would “stand in the shoes” of the debtors, taking over the cost of servicing the debts of Scottish domiciled students.

But they did say they would write off the debt. For example, Ms Hyslop said exactly that in a speech at Strathclyde University in November 2006.

In the balance

SNP ministers quite rightly and properly point to their alternative action: scrapping the graduate endowment (with Lib Dem support), moving steadily from loans to grants.

Alex Salmond pointed, accurately, to the absence of a Holyrood majority for the debt policy. He pointed, further, to the relative scarcity of funds from HM Treasury.

All matters to be weighed in the balance by politicians, students and, of course the wicked media.

But spare us, please, the verbal sophistry.


  • 1.
  • At 03:52 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • Colkitto wrote:

I found Henry McLeish the worst offender at "dodging" questions.

Blair was a master. Strange how Salmond seems to be the only one attacked by the media for this...

  • 2.
  • At 04:08 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • scyinical sid. wrote:

hold the front page ! someone has actually ,finaly ,challenged our government!!!ok so it came from a very unusual scource ,nicol the nose might actually be starting to play a decent game. as we all know good governments need damm good opposition. are we starting to see the green shoots of recovery on this front ? well it will be up to the lib dems and the tory's as wendy and the ostritches have a long way to go to catch up,they have still not worked out no one likes them anymore.

  • 3.
  • At 04:14 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • Ric Flair wrote:

I can just imagine you in the chamber, Brian, cheering Nicol on!

So much for the new politics from the Lib Dems. Do they not realise just how pathetic this sounds? Nicol's smelled sleaze (what happened to that?), he's held up that letter to a patient about waiting lists (what happened to that?), he's claimed school building money has been spent on toilets (what happened to that?) he's talked about students singing anti-SNP songs in the streets (what happened to that?). But only you, Brian, are impressed.

If Nicol was a real politican, he would be cosying up to Salmond, seizing the opportunity to actually achieve one of his party's (supposed) aims - that being to introduce a fully local income tax. But then that's not what Wendy - or you, it would appear - wants him to do, is it?

When you compare this post with all the times in the past you've put your hands to your ears and protested you have to remain 'impartial', it's embarrassing.

I don't think you're fooling anyone, though. Thank goodness.

  • 4.
  • At 05:48 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • k singleton wrote:

As usual Salmond is using the UK
as an excuse for his failings.

  • 5.
  • At 06:18 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • Leuchars wrote:

I love it, the political commentators in Scotland have taken to saying "Nicol's great so he is" lately and the public response quite properly has been "Eh?"

vigour indeed, that and Wendy's fabled intellect.

To quote a certain V Meldrew "I don't believe it!"

Ric , the last thing I want is for Nicol ( the Nose ) Stevens to cuddle up to the SNP now!
They had their chance and, thanks to Ming the Merciless cosying up to Gordon Brown they were hamstrung, so too bad.
After the Trump accusation, the Aberdeen by pass , Aviemore , hospital letters sat on so that he could score political points (which were NOT in the best interests of the patient involved, not to mention the scarcity ,as in one expert capable of carrying out the op)I don't want the SNP to rely on this 'fairweather' friend.
I cannot understand the media rush to portray him as some sort of super hero , I see him and his party heading for wipeout in the whole of the UK ,not just Scotland.

  • 7.
  • At 07:59 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • AM2, Glasgow wrote:

Fiona Hyslop, Nov 2006: “An SNP Government ... will write off the outstanding student loans debt.”

Fiona Hyslop, Feb 2008: “We never said we would write off student debt.”

Enough said!

  • 8.
  • At 08:39 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • Robert wrote:

"The wry smile on Alex Salmond’s face told the story. That and the fact that he dodged the issue entirely."

Brian, you could replace 'Alex Salmond' with 'Wendy Alexander' and that is the exact thought I just had upon seeing the picture beside the current headline story on the BBC Scotland website a mere few seconds ago.

  • 9.
  • At 09:07 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • scyinical sid. wrote:

well, well. welcome back AM2!




  • 10.
  • At 10:00 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • John Bell wrote:

Is it not strange that the SNP government is expected to deliver its entire manifesto within ten months. The Lib/Lab coalition managed to NOT deliver theirs over eight years and very little was said of it - except by the electorate!

  • 11.
  • At 10:44 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • Scamp wrote:

"What’s the substance behind this? To be entirely fair, it was made plain during last year’s election that the SNP did not intend to write off the debt in one go."

Enough said.

  • 12.
  • At 12:49 AM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • stewart wrote:

this is old news

the snp said when the spending review became aparent... we promised it but cant afford it... they were honest... they didnt spin their way out of it

they have still done more for students than the previous lot!

the snp are good for scotland and thats coming from me, their not so big fan

stop the biased journalism bbc... the snp are doing well and because of their performance ill now vote for them in future, even though i always voted labour

  • 13.
  • At 03:33 AM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Mike wrote:

Isnt it wonderful seeing Gordon Brown stealing policies from the David Cameron led Tories and now the SNP Scottish Government.

In Browns case it is the new Alcohol Initiatives of the SNP, while the Tories Inheritance Tax only needed a couple of minor words.

In the case of Taxes there are many many Scots paying much more Tax now than was ever the case before the Blair Brown alliance based on lies. Now I know that Brown has left Scotland with 22 billion quid worth of debt for PPP/PFI. And I know we will be paying that debt for thirty years. I also know that Brown has left this group of Countries with 100 billion quids debt through the Northern Rock fiasco, but then I just realised that Northern Rock is mere pennies when you consider the borrowing of the Brown/Blair Government over the last ten years. And dont forget, that is after they sold off everything including the kitchen sink to foreign investors who now control the majority of the UK's Economy.

What I would like to know is, how come the amount of pocketmoney we receive from our masters in London per person in Scotland is so much less than the amount I pay every year into the London Treasury.

Call me silly but even after paying for the illegal wars, and the cost of Nuclear Weapons through Trident, it still leaves us as individuals and amongst the highest taxed countries in the World, miles out of what we actually get back by way of our pocketmoney.

Where exactly does it go. I would like to know.

  • 14.
  • At 08:51 AM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Colin Stewart wrote:

I understand that Aberdeen City Council carries a debt in excess of £500 million pounds. Edinburgh and Glasgow owe more. To whom is this money owned, and if it is the UK treasury, would it have to be repaid if Scotland became independent?

  • 15.
  • At 09:02 AM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • scyinical sid. wrote:

as john bell says , not 1 party has delivered all there manifesto commitments since the return of the scottish parliment because that is the way it has been set is a far better system than the one used by the dinosaurs in westminster!
forcing people to work together for greater good of the country . it's a no brainer - that might help some of our msp's but if you watch them on the telly -maybe not!

  • 16.
  • At 09:38 AM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • boxthejack wrote:

I voted for the SNP last election because their manifesto was bold. I do not think they're doing an altogether bad job.

However they did unceremoniously dump 'Dump the Debt' - no, John Bell, not for now, for ever - and Brian is right to disallow Sturgeon's attempt to rewrite history.

I agree with Stewart that they initially emerged with some credit because they didn't seem inclined to spin out of it.

The SNP hacks on this thread would do well to realise that the electorate is not them and their mates down the pub, that we are idiots, and that we don't well up passion when we see Salmond on our TV screens.

  • 17.
  • At 11:42 AM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Debbie McRae wrote:

Two crucial questions are,

"Who placed Scottish students in debt in the first place"?

Answer: London based, regional Scottish UK Labour party.

"Who is releaving debt from Scottish students"?

Answer: Scotish based, SNP

I will be a Scottish student in September this year, I know where my vote will be going!

  • 18.
  • At 11:42 AM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Kevin wrote:

It is quite something that the only reason Nicol Stephen [apparently] looks so good - is because Wendy Alexander has performed so badly.

To be honest both the Lib Dems and Labour have taken some time to realise they are no longer in power - the former appear to be coming to terms with the situation and overcoming their post-election sulk, while the latter under Alexander still seem to be sleepwalking into one PR disaster after another.

I cannot however take seriously Brian Taylor's view of the LibDems as the saviour of students in Scotland. The LibDems added to student debt problems through the graduate endowment - that has been removed.

If you believe Nicol Stephen would have won a write off of student debt in any Labour coalition - you'd believe that Brian Taylor would indeed eat his hat - which even if calorie free, is a leap of faith too far.

If anything, Stephen makes a passable straight man to the ever amusing Ms Goldie - definitely fandabby-dozy!

  • 19.
  • At 12:05 PM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • HughB wrote:

Gordon Brown never promised to destroy peoples pension schemes, but he did.

Wendy never promised to take an illegal donation from Jersey, but she did.

The list could go on and on...

  • 20.
  • At 12:15 PM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Gregor Addison wrote:

#6 Disgusted Dorothy

The reason the media are falling over themselves to bestow Nicol with hero status (which he no doubt believes), is that Wendy Alexander has been so inept in tackling the First Minister that anyone, yes - even Nicol, will do. In fact, his attacks have been largely short term shows of bluster designed to grab a headline but lacking long term substance. It keeps Wendy off the front page and it will do little to improve the fortunes of the Lib Dems. I'm sure most SNP supporters are nonplussed.

  • 21.
  • At 01:01 PM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Ian wrote:

I see that the SNP-bots are out again to ridicule any suggestion that AS and his cronies can't actually walk on water.

You guys should give it a rest. Your comments actually make the SNP look worse not better.


  • 22.
  • At 01:05 PM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Kirsteen Fraser wrote:

"But spare us, please, the verbal sophistry."

I find that a bit rich coming from you Brian.

Thanks to the SNP I am now considering going to University something I wasn't before due to the expense. Get off your high horse and at least make an attempt to be impartial.

  • 23.
  • At 02:04 PM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Alex Brodie, Edinburgh wrote:

brian - great to see more and more people writing to your blog making sure you know you are fooling no one with your Labour party propaganda.

  • 24.
  • At 02:15 PM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • Dan Ritchie wrote:

Im concerned. I thought we would have seen something about Ming's book here. It highlights the way UK Gov thinks of Scotland. 'Oh I say those Scots are really starting to irk arent they? Lets meet up at the Lodge and see what we can do about it' Dont think we need to involve anyone from up there, they are all a bit dim and besides we know whats best for them. Can you imagine the follow up meet 'oh its outrageous they have had opinions and everything, who allowed this? Lets not speak to them and perhaps the Scot's problem will go away..... Lets see how the lowly Scots parties associated react. Probably pretend that everything is fine the Scots dont know anything anyway.
Next Election cant come quick enough.

  • 25.
  • At 03:07 PM on 07 Mar 2008,
  • interested by-stander wrote:

Can someone advise me if I understand this correctly?

Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib. dems. are calling on the minority SNP government to introduce a measure which the opposition opposes and will block in Parliament.

Mr Stephen wants the opportunity to vote down the abolition of student debt. Is that it?

  • 26.
  • At 12:07 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • derek aitken wrote:

This "impartial" blog is another reason why the tv licence should be abolished.

  • 27.
  • At 10:26 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • fiona wrote:


I despair....When is the BBC going to realise Labour are DONE .

The people of this country want to move forward, the SNP cant administer all there pledges but they have done more since MAY than the libdums and nu lab did since 1999.

  • 28.
  • At 11:42 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • seumas wrote:

Everytime I see Brian on the box talking down the Scottish Government, I cringe, he is so biased against the S.N.P.his utterances are meaningless.
Incidentally I am not a member of any political party but will be voting S.N.P. at the next election and I suspect there are many more thinking likewise.
Not impressed with negativity Brian, think about it!!

  • 29.
  • At 03:17 PM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • Will (strathclyde uni) wrote:

Actually, that was balanced and impartial. Well done brian, superb as usual.

If you don't like brian's reporting style, don't read this blog.

Also, this is not old news, it remains current, because it remains important to students, who make up the scientists, engineers, doctors and lawyers of tommorow.

The SNP have not had much time in government, so it's not suprising that they've not delivered on much so far, but they do have plenty of time.
Although to be balanced, they have delivered the end of the endowment fees, which, to remain balanced, means uni funding takes a hit.

What is worrying is Fiona Hyslop's attempt to say that the SNP did not promise to "dump the debt monster", because they did. They were voted for by many students on purely that policy, we have the campaign leaflets.

If Salmond was not attempting to wriggle out of hs promise, he would have blasted Nicol Stephen for being plain wrong.

But, he didn't.

If Salmond lost an exchange in parliment, being accused of wriggling out of something he is trying to wriggle out of, then he, or any other politician, derserves it.

It is not biased to say that.

  • 30.
  • At 01:03 AM on 11 Mar 2008,
  • Steve A wrote:

Will! put your money where your mouth is and vote labour next time round and see how far that gets you!Probably ending up in mcdonalds or something!OH no offence to Andy Kerr as he knows that it can actually be quite lucrative working with mcdonalds!LOL

  • 31.
  • At 09:58 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Eddie L wrote:

Let it be said to our students, thats if you have to travel to uni or college, SNP took away toll charges so if you live in fife and go across a bridge it dont cost you now, if you live in the same side but work in the south side of the river it dont cost to go to work if you cross the river. And for the Environment a wee bonus as people dont take the detours to avoid payment of tolls, (because they're a little short till pay day)little towns and villages benefit from the toll removals. There's a knock on to the SNP that they may not even have considdered. I was a lab man, but now SNP. I am not dumb enough to believe they can deliver everything, but up till now what a track record in such a short space of time.

  • 32.
  • At 12:17 PM on 15 Mar 2008,
  • samir s. halevi wrote:

The reason why hamas fires daily rockets into Israel, is to protest Israel's very existence, however you obviously don't see it like this.
What you really wish for is the
de-legitimisation of 'The State Of Israel' I am one of the forgotten Jewish refugees from the arab world,
My parents had to leave their home in Iraq in 1950, in order to escape
persecution, torture and death, we left behind all our property, all our savings, everything which we possessed,in 1948 the jewish population of the arab world numbered almost 1,000,000 today there is scarcely left around 8,000,
how about that for ethnic cleansing.
What about our rights. The neglected issue of the forgotten jewish refugees from arab lands was never brought up in the United Nations.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.