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Cut to the elephant

Brian Taylor | 13:35 UK time, Thursday, 15 April 2010

As so often, the best gag emerged from Annabel Goldie.

Delivering the opening formulaic question, the Tory leader inquired when the First Minister would next meet the Prime Minister - "the current one, that is."

Not sure whether to credit her timing and delivery or her scriptwriter - but it was a decent wheeze during a slightly unusual session of questions to the FM.

Unusual, for two reasons. One, the overwhelming, looming presence of the UK General Election. Vince Cable would probably call it the elephant in the chamber.

Two, the huge impact of the Icelandic volcanic eruption upon travel in these islands. Especially the islands distinct from the main body of land.

On reflection, I imagine most MSPs would agree that this particular development merited a separate statement from the Scottish Government.

Alex Salmond turned his opening remarks to Labour's Iain Gray into a quasi-statement.

Hovering beast

Tavish Scott reflected his status not just as Lib Dem leader but as MSP for Shetland in pursuing detailed inquiries on the issue. He got detailed answers.

But, somehow, it was all a little unsatisfactory, a little muddled.

Still, back to the elephant: the General Election. The hovering beast made its presence felt. Tends to happen.

Mr Gray pursued the issue of knife crime: would the first minister seek to reverse the Justice Committee's support of mandatory prison sentences for carrying knives?

His attack was strong. There was no point, he roared, in recruiting extra police officers if the FM was going to let their quarries loose.

Mr Salmond said the issue would be settled by the whole Parliament, while noting that senior police officers who work in this particular field have spoken out strongly against compulsory jail.

So far, so devolved. But Mr Gray, of course, could not resist lampooning the SNP's "champions" campaign in the General Election.

Too prissy?

And Mr Salmond, equally, could not resist accusing Labour of planning damaging cuts in Scottish public spending.

I stress, I do not remotely blame them. They are politicians, seeking votes for their parties and for their chums who are standing for Westminster.

It did not, however, add much to the understanding of either the election campaign in Scotland or, indeed, the knife crime issue which will fall to be settled by Holyrood.

I know, I know - I am being far too prissy about these things. Guilty as charged.

However, the pedant in me points out that a General Election is not simply a loose plebiscite on a range of issues, devolved and reserved.

It is not an opinion poll.

It is an offer to elect representatives who will cast their votes on our behalf on issues that come before the House of Commons.

For Scotland, those issues are reserved matters, not devolved. The broad economy, not health. Defence, not education. Welfare, not policing.

Update at 1655: Parliament seems to have listened. An emergency statement on the volcanic cloud was made by Finance Secretary John Swinney.


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