Debt Monster strikes back
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.
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.