First Minister's Questions: Living the life of Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Why did Justin Bieber's name crop up at First Minister's Questions?

Among several competitors, the most tedious lines in poetry are generally considered to be....

O'er the wires the electric message came, "He is no better; he is much the same."

They are said to be by the then Poet Laureate Alfred Austin in a 1910 ditty anent the illness of the then Prince of Wales. Entirely understandably, chums of Alfred later denied the attribution and tried to blame an unknown hand for this pitiful doggerel.

On glancing at the wires these days, there is much that would rival Alfred at his worst for enervating dullness. But occasionally an item jumps out.

Just such occurred this afternoon as I learned from the Associated Press service that the pop star Justin Bieber has been arrested in Florida in connection with an incident involving drag-racing in Miami.

I am not, personally, acquainted with Mr Bieber's oeuvre. But was this the very same J. Bieber linked obliquely by Labour's Johann Lamont to an American trip by the First Minister? It surely was.

Let me explain. The Scottish government and Visit Scotland sent a team to Chicago in 2012 at the point when that great US city was hosting the Ryder Cup - a global golfing event due to pitch up at Gleneagles later this year.

The wicked media -in the shape of the Daily Telegraph - have been assiduously pursuing the costs of that trip. It has emerged that Visit Scotland spent £414,000. Which left, said Ms Lamont, some £54k unaccounted for. Could the First Minister enlighten us?

Posh hotel

Mr Salmond indicated he would respond in detail, in due course. For now, he chided Ms Lamont for failing to acknowledge that it was the duty and obligation of the SG and other public agencies to maximise the benefit for Scotland of the Ryder Cup. That included plugging the old country overseas.

But what of Bieber, J? This. Apparently, Mr Salmond stayed in a posh hotel which, Ms Lamont solemnly informed us, was the habitual abode of the likes of Beyoncé, Brad Pitt - and the alleged drag-racer himself.

The hotel, she said, was "for those who love to spoil themselves." As for the £54k cost? It was, she said, twice the average salary.

She then cited her own mother in evidence - who had apparently advised young Johann that "every penny should be a prisoner because it came from the sweat of your father's brow".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Golfer Tom Watson and Alex Salmond at Gleneagles Golf club to mark one year to go to the Ryder Cup

The implication was evident - and familiar from past attacks. Ms Lamont still espoused the virtues of humility and hard work which had been her birthright - while the First Minister consorted at public expense with the posh and well-rewarded. (Although, given that Beyoncé follows the same diet plan as the FM, her bill for meals should be decidedly limited.)

By contrast, Mr Salmond argued that a fair degree of honest perspiration had been expended on the Chicago trip - but all in pursuit of Scotland's interests. It had been designed to attract US visitors to Scotland - and, separately, to sign up American business deals worth millions of pounds.

Ms Lamont, he said, was "plumbing the depths" and was guilty of promoting "ridiculous frippery" - by contrast with the real issues confronting Scotland, such as the economy. In respect of which, he noted falling unemployment and rising foreign direct investment.

Later, it was said by Team Salmond that the SG squad sent to Chicago comprised 17 plus the FM. The cost had been £51k (not £54k), comprising £13,500 for accommodation and £37,500 for flights. Further details would follow in response to the Freedom of Information request. The hotel occupied by the FM had been chosen for its proximity to business meetings distinct from the golf.

Over to Ruth Davidson of the Tories. She was concerned about reducing numbers of college places, notably affecting women. Mr Salmond said that the numbers of Full Time Equivalent places had been maintained at promised levels.

Support police

Ms Lamont responded that he had not addressed himself to the issue of women. Mr Salmond recovered well to say that he had addressed the fundamental topic - while assuring Ms Davidson that his government was working hard to assist women into the workforce with apparent success according to the latest statistics.

Willie Rennie pursued the issue of stop and search powers available to the police - and much over-used, according to the Liberal Democrat leader. Such searches, he said, had encompassed 500 youngsters under the age of 10.

Mr Salmond said such matters were under review - but his response, generally, was to support the police, noting that 20% of such searches had yielded results in terms of finding knives or other items of interest.

Wonder if Justin currently harbours the same affection for the constabulary.

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