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A good grilling

Brian Taylor | 14:48 UK time, Thursday, 22 May 2008

Holyrood, collectively, was on fine form today.

The choice of issues with which to berate the first minister could scarcely have been bettered. Topical, serious and detailed.

Without question, it is a key function of parliament that the FM is confronted regularly with subjects which interest the public - or are in the public interest.

Today Alex Salmond was questioned, in order, about his proposed Scottish Futures Trust, complaints from a sheriff about sentencing policy and the disclosure that patient records have been left lying around in a closed Dundee hospital.

Snag for the opposition leaders is that, on the day, Alex Salmond did not appear even faintly disquieted by their disparate assault.

Firstly, Wendy Alexander. She opted for the SFT which has already faced criticism from business for being vague and imprecise and from unions for persisting with PFI in another guise.

It was the right topic. She pursued it in a controlled fashion, mostly eschewing rhetoric. However, for me, her attack was too disparate.

Hideous cost

Three successive questions, three completely different aspects of the controversy. Might have been better, on balance, to pick just one element and pursue the FM over that.

In any event, Mr Salmond was able to despatch her three-pronged attack by sticking broadly to a single theme: the hideous cost to the public purse of old-style PFI and the consequent need to act.

Annabel Goldie opened with a couple of good gags - then metaphorically rolled up her sleeves and got going on one of her favourite topics: the early release of prisoners.

I thought, to be frank, that, by contrast with Ms Alexander, her rhetoric was a little over-cooked.

She accused the FM, effectively, of being on the side of sin and anti-virtue.

Even confronted with such provocation, Mr Salmond maintained a calm sough.

Who knows, he might need the Tories again, just as he did over his government's budget.

So he pointed out gently, almost sorrowfully, that it was the Tories who had introduced automatic early release - and that his administration was implementing plans to replace the present set-up.

Nicol Stephen pounced on patients' records. Quite right too.

On the face of it, there seems to have been, at the very least, unacceptable laxity with regard to Strathmartine Hospital.

Was he right, however, to demand the resignation of Public Health Minister Shona Robison - whose constituency is near the hospital?

Her defence is two fold: that the records were neglected, not by her, but by NHS Tayside; and that she, twice, sought and was apparently given assurances that the issue was being tackled.


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