Shades of South Pacific at First Minister's Questions

Brian Taylor
Political editor, Scotland

Image caption,
Kezia Dugdale seemed to indicate that the first minister is all talk

Try though I might, I have never been an unalloyed fan of musicals. Preferring serious drama, I can never quite extend the willing suspension of disbelief sufficiently to encompass lead characters who burst unaccountably into song, instead of just saying what they mean.

But I exempt a few. West Side Story is outstanding, officer Krupke and all. Calamity Jane is a collective family favourite. And then there is South Pacific.

Great movie, great songs, droll screenplay plus an integral, if sklenting, examination of racism. Every-thing, as one of the characters opines.

I thought of South Pacific while observing the exchanges in Holyrood today. Labour's Kezia Dugdale repeatedly made a gesture with her fingers while the first minister was on her feet (no, not that gesture, take that person's name).

She flipped her fingers and thumbs together, suggesting, I surmise, that the FM was talking plenty, but doing rather less.

For a moment, I puzzled. What did it remind me of? Then it came to me. It resembled the gesture made by Bloody Mary and her daughter Liat as they sang "Happy Talk" in South Pacific.

Sadly for BM and her offspring, the gesture and the accompanying ditty proved insufficient to tempt the American soldier who was the object of the musical wooing. For the underlying reason, I refer you to that "integral examination" mentioned earlier.

If that ended in a sad parting - and bitter self-recrimination by the young lieutenant - then, equally, there was precious little evidence of harmony in the Holyrood exchanges, even in this first session since the official dawn of spring.

Image caption,
Nicola Sturgeon was pressed on education by all opposition leaders

Ms Dugdale said the first minister was "indecisive and distracted". In response, Nicola Sturgeon referred to an online comment which had apparently described the Labour leader as a "pound shop Ruth Davidson."

Building upon this theme, Ms Sturgeon added dismissively: "Buy one, get one free!" Neither leader, the FM argued, was focused upon true public concerns.

Rising slowly and sadly to her feet, Ms Dugdale said the comments were unworthy. It was the sort of thing she would have expected from Ms Sturgeon's predecessor. The FM looked, it should be said, less than distraught.

And the topic? Education. Just as it had been earlier in the exchanges with Ms Davidson, the Tory leader. Both pursued a claim that the Scottish government was napping on the job, having delayed a review of governance.

Ms Sturgeon insisted it was entirely right to take a little more time to get things properly in line. Ms Davidson demurred. And Ms Dugdale went further, accusing the FM of a "power grab" by apparently centralising budget control.

Image caption,
Ms Sturgeon accused Ms Dugdale of being a "pound shop Ruth Davidson" after the leaders pursued similar lines

Deploying her sharpest sarcasm, the FM noted that the government had diverted £120m directly to head teachers (and presumably intends to go further post the governance review). Scarcely, she noted, acts of centralisation.

The discourse with Patrick Harvie of the Greens and Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats also focused upon education, although upon distinct aspects. Both opposition leaders made substantive points, rather well.

Mr Rennie complained of national testing, leading, he said, to league tables of schools. Ms Sturgeon said the policy was "standardised assessment" - and the government did not publish any league tables (others do that for them, notably the wicked media).

And Mr Harvie? He complained of a lack of resources available to schools to help pupils with special needs.

Ms Sturgeon noted that it was a highly important topic but insisted that extra resources had been made available and that teachers, more widely, had a responsibility to assist all pupils, including those delineated as requiring particular help.

During the exchanges, Patrick Harvie referred to a particular case. It had apparently been suggested to one school staffer that in seeking information about Asperger Syndrome they might usefully watch the American sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.

Ms Sturgeon readily agreed that this was unacceptable. What next? Want to learn about racism? Absorb "You've got to be carefully taught" from South Pacific.

More on this story