Education report card makes grim reading

Nicola Sturgeon Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Sturgeon faced questions over the Scottish education system's latest report card

In theatre and politics, atmosphere is all. In both scenarios, said atmosphere is commonly amplified by the onlookers.

In Greek drama, the chorus keep us right. Turn to Bertolt Brecht and such action as there is will be regularly interrupted by a dose of distancing didacticism. In panto, the comic lead will ruin the villain's big scene with a deftly burst balloon.

Today, during questions to the first minister, the tone was set by her deputy. Boy, did he look glum.

Now, John Swinney is a thoroughly affable individual. Customarily, his role in FMQs is either to lampoon opponents with mischievous sedentary banter or to chuckle with delight at a particularly witty put-down, delivered by his colleague. Thigh-slapping is not excluded.

Today he looked sombre and grim, at least during the opening exchanges. And with good reason. Nicola Sturgeon was under attack over the latest dismal report card on Scottish education.

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Duel of the popular mandates at Holyrood

Holyrood vote
Image caption MSPs voted to oppose the triggering of Article 50

Perhaps it was theatrical envy, but Ben Jonson was faintly acerbic about Shakespeare, noting that he had "small Latin and less Greek".

(Maybe so, Ben, but who watches Volpone today?)

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Scotland's budget: Jeers and cheers

Media captionMurdo Fraser refers to the Scottish Greens as 'lentil-munching sandal-wearing watermelons'

Party politicians frequently gain succour from identifying and targeting villains. In search of suitable hate figures, their own ranks generally suffice.

Sometimes, however, they are obliged to look beyond their own back or front benches. Step forward the new target for disparate opprobrium. Patrick Harvie. (Hiss and, indeed, boo!)

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Scotland's budget: closer to consensus

Media captionPatrick Harvie says he and the Scottish Greens would not be willing to see emergency cuts happen

Wee bit more on the Scottish budget. Not there yet - but it is looking increasingly likely at Holyrood that there will be a deal between ministers and the Greens.

Certainly, the pervasive gloom of previous days has lifted somewhat in ministerial corridors. Again, not there yet - but closer.

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Scotland's budget: anyone for chess?

draft budget
Image caption The first vote on the budget will be on Thursday

While a youth, I was rather keen on chess, my native Dundee being the global capital of that fine game, among many other things. However, I have always shied clear of the multi-dimensional version.

Which is a pity because it would have readied me for attempting to follow the contest of comparable complexity currently taking place at Holyrood anent the negotiations over the Scottish Government's budget.

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Tam Dalyell: a rebel with umpteen causes

Tam Dalyell Image copyright PA

He was the Old Etonian aristocrat elected to represent a mining constituency. He was the former Tory who moved to the Left of the Labour Party. He was exceptionally polite - but endlessly persistent, to the occasional exasperation even of his friends.

In short, Tam Dalyell was different. However, it is important to understand that he was not a self-conscious rebel, not one of those who choose contention for the sake of sounding different or for the sake of getting attention at all.

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Alternative facts and qualified truths

Donald Trump Image copyright AP
Image caption The phrase "alternative fact" entered the political lexicon after being used by Donald Trump's advisor, Kellyanne Conway

It is intriguing to note how phrases enter the lexicon. Take "alternative fact" for example. It was initially used by a member of Team Trump to counter claims regarding the inaugural crowd which greeted the new president.

The suggestion was that the grouping of enthusiasts gathered to hail the new chief was differently numbered from those who mustered to welcome President Obama (at his first outing.) A rival depiction. A distinct vision. Ok, smaller.

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Brexit and parliamentary power

Flags outside Holyrood Image copyright PA
Image caption Holyrood's ability to speak up over devolved matters has been questioned over the court ruling

As mischievous politicians occasionally note, I have been covering Scottish politics for a wee while now. For example, I well remember the agonised discourse over "entrenchment" in the cross-party Constitutional Convention which paved the way to devolution.

The debate then centred upon the question of whether the Scottish Parliament, once established, could be protected against the potential depredations of a future UK administration which might be inimical to devolved power. Could it be saved from abolition?

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FMQs: The generic and the particular

  • 19 January 2017
  • From the section Scotland
Media captionKezia Dugdale said Elaine Hanby's condition affects the quality of her life

The political world is an uneasy amalgam of the generic and the particular. Frequently, the two overlap. Frequently, as at Holyrood today, they interact jarringly.

Almost by definition, political promises are generic. Last May, parties did not produce a manifesto for each individual in Scotland - although it would be hugely amusing had such an event occurred.

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PM assured over Brexit - but questions remain

Theresa May Image copyright PA
Image caption After much speculation, Mrs May finally confirmed the UK would be leaving the single market

It was, all in all, an assured performance by the prime minister. She looked and sounded confident as she delivered her Plan for Britain, as she stated her objectives for the Brexit negotiations.

From those who harbour potential worries - such as business or the unions - there has been a degree of grudging respect, allied to lingering anxieties.

Read full article PM assured over Brexit - but questions remain