Tricky questions for Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon faced some tricky questions at her weekly question session

It was, for the first minister, a particularly tricky question. Her policy position meant that she was not minded to say Yes. However, it was difficult in the circumstances to say No.

Then again, the issue itself placed governmental quandaries decidedly in context. We are talking about historical allegations of abuse suffered by young football players at the hands of coaches whom they had trusted.

By contrast with the misery suffered by these youngsters, the complexities of government and political life are minor matters.

To be fair, this was entirely acknowledged in the tone adopted by our parliamentarians. They were serious, empathetic and focused.

Starting with Labour's Kezia Dugdale. There is already an inquiry under way into child abuse suffered by youngsters in care. That is scheduled to last four years.

Ms Dugdale argued with vigour and contained passion that the inquiry's scope should be extended to include the most recent allegations. Otherwise, she asserted, justice would not be fully served.

Nicola Sturgeon rose slowly and with deliberation. She expressed sympathy for victims, saying the allegations which are steadily emerging via the BBC and the newspapers "sicken all of us". She stressed that all claims would be investigated.

At which point, Ms Sturgeon and Ms Dugdale diverged. Cautiously and with precisely chosen words, the first minister outlined why she did not feel that expanding the current inquiry would be sensible.

Image caption Kezia Dugdale asked the first minister to expand the remit of the Scottish child abuse inquiry

Firstly, she argued that the immediate investigation and pursuit of the football-related allegations properly lay with the police and then, potentially, with the prosecuting authorities.

Secondly, extending the current remit would risk substantial delays for the existing inquiry. Its work might well become "unwieldy". This would not assist those who were awaiting the outcome.

Thirdly, she noted that while there were some who already wanted the remit broadened, there were others who argued strongly that it should remain tightly focused.

Fourthly, she said that the inquiry had a specific task: to examine incidents of abuse in or associated with institutional care, where those in charge of the youngsters were acting in loco parentis.

However, she appeared to indicate that there could be a change in future with regard to the football claims. If and when criminal investigations were exhausted, it might be that there were broader issues to be examined.

In parliamentary terms, these were powerful and valid exchanges. An important, topical concern, sensibly and legitimately raised by an opposition leader. A detailed, thorough response from the first minister?

Will everyone be content? By definition, not. Universal contentment is not given to us in a troubled world. One can but hope that those who have suffered can be helped to find peace.

As to the remainder of First Minister's Questions, it was dominated largely by the Pisa report on Scottish education, issued earlier this week. Remember? Woeful performance. Slipping down the league tables. Yes, that one.

Image caption Willie Rennie and Ruth Davidson both questioned the first minister about school performance

Both Ruth Davidson for the Tories and Willie Rennie for the Liberal Democrats were effective in pursuing the FM.

Ms Sturgeon had a strategy ready. It was hands up surrender. The results were simply not good enough. They must be improved.

Her only attempted caveat was to say that the Pisa figures were based on tests conducted in March 2015, nearly two years ago - and that remedial measures had been put in place since.

But Ms Davidson and, later, Mr Rennie cited examples of previous education ministers insisting that progress was in place. Given that, they were less than inclined to credit the FM.

Ms Sturgeon did contrive to counter the Tory leader on one point. Ms Davidson said she was now placing the Curriculum for Excellence "on probation", suggesting its introduction might be responsible for continuing decline.

The FM noted this was in direct contrast to comments made by Liz Smith, the Tory education spokesperson, just a few days ago.

To repeat, though, these opposition attacks were generally potent and well-aimed. Ms Sturgeon - and Scotland - must simply hope that the latest remedies work in Scotland's schools.

Image caption Alex Johnstone was a list MSP for North East Scotland from the first session of the Scottish Parliament

Tributes were paid in the chamber to Alex Johnstone, who has died. The warmth of the comments matched the warmth and humour of the man - especially when those comments came from those who cheerfully conceded that they had not agreed with a scintilla of his politics.

May I simply add my sympathy to his family? Alex was a big figure at Holyrood in every way. He will be greatly missed.

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