Initial reaction and the price of fish

Brian Taylor
Political editor, Scotland

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image source, Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon appeared to be assailed on all sides during parliamentary questions today.

Firstly, she seemed to have a slight cough. Nothing serious. Just the sort of delicate ahem delivered by Jeeves when seeking to attract the attention of the young master. (Yes, I've been re-reading Wodehouse. Again.)

Secondly, she suffered from what is euphemistically called friendly fire.

Her esteemed deputy, John Swinney, is occasionally given to heckling rival parties. It is not unknown for him to become a little enthused during this process.

image captionNicola Sturgeon appeared to be assailed on all sides

Today, he indulged his passion for chiding opponents just as the FM was trying to listen to a question from Patrick Harvie.

Perhaps a few noises off were apposite in that Mr Harvie was talking about aviation.

Ms Sturgeon grimaced slightly as if trying to conduct a parliamentary debate under the Edinburgh Airport flightpath, (itself, currently, a contentious topic.)

Gently chided by the presiding officer, Mr Swinney gently subsided.

Permitting Ms Sturgeon to rebut Mr Harvie who had said that cutting aviation tax would increase carbon emissions and benefit the wealthy disproportionately.

The poor being less inclined to rely upon jet travel.

image captionPatrick Harvie challenged the first minister on air passenger duty

Again gently - this is a tricky one - the FM argued that a cut in aviation duty, under newly-devolved powers, would boost the Scottish economy, benefiting everyone - including those waiting in bus queues.

Scotland, she added, was ahead of the game on carbon targets and would remain so.

We had started, though, with the price of fish. Ruth Davidson piled in hard - while, probably wisely, eschewing the temptation to start punning over sturgeon - and indeed salmon-d.

According to the Tory leader, the SNP were guilty of hypocrisy.

They favoured the European Union (EU) - which meant favouring the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Which meant upsetting the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF).

image captionRuth Davidson accused the SNP of hypocrisy over its policy on the EU and the CFP

Yet, said Ms Davidson, SNP MPs in fishing constituencies had effectively disowned the CFP by signing up to a pledge set out by the SFF.

TTFN, she didn't say, as she sat down.

The first minister (FM) seemed well prepared for this blizzard of initials.

And fish.

Steadying herself on board, gazing resolutely sou'west, she caricatured her rival as resembling a finned creature.

Not, you understand, in the sense that Gussie Fink-Nottle resembles a haddock. (Yes, Wodehouse again.)

No, the comparison was with a flounder - or rather a fish floundering on deck, post netting, turning uselessly this way and that.

"Flip flop", she told her opponent. Adding, for the avoidance of doubt, "flip flop".

Then came the gaff. (No, not gaffe. Gaff. Sharp instrument, for securing a catch.)

The Tories, said Ms Sturgeon, had regarded the fishing industry as "expendable" when Britain first joined the Common Market. (For some reason, never known as the CM.)

Now they were at it again, prepared to sell out the fleet by granting access to British waters to European boats, in pursuit of a Brexit deal.

Ms Davidson hit back, arguing that the first minister could not make up her mind whether to evangelise for the EU - or apologise for it. Whether the coming election was or was not about independence.

This was the common theme (CT) pursued by the FM's rivals.

image captionKezia Dugdale asked about teacher vacancies

Labour's Kezia Dugdale said it would take up to three years to fill the teacher vacancies in Scotland's schools.

Three years, she reckoned, which Ms Sturgeon would deploy arguing for independence.

Ms Sturgeon reminded her, with a prop, that a succession of Labour-led councils had maintained a freeze on council tax when they could have raised revenue.

Willie Rennie drew rather effectively upon a well of satire.

So the election wasn't about independence, eh?

Why, then, was Nicola Sturgeon pictured yesterday astride a motorbike, emblazoned with Yes2 stickers, next to the Wallace Monument, "on the B road to Bannockburn"?

image captionWillie Rennie accused the first minister of being 'shifty and evasive'

The LibDem leader accused the FM of being "shifty and evasive".

No, no, said Ms Sturgeon, she had been inspecting Bannockburn House. Once home to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Not sure that entirely dispelled the sense of a photocall linked to Scotland's independent history and possible future. But still.

However, Nicola Sturgeon wasn't having it.

Mr Rennie, she said, could have asked her about a range of issues under her stewardship.

Instead, he asked about independence. All her opponents were, she implied, obsessed with the question.

And Ms Sturgeon?

She was intent on winning the UK General Election. In Scotland, for Scotland. Something her opponents could not say.

Oh, they do, first minister, they do.

With, mostly, straight faces.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum. (QED.)