FMQs Analysis: Slogans and softballs mark subdued session

Scottish Tories leader Ruth Davidson speaks in the chamber. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Scottish Tories leader Ruth Davidson speaks in the chamber. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Ruth Davidson, if one poll is to be believed, is Scotland’s most popular political leader, outstripping even the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

But if the Tory leader wants to continue to improve her approval ratings, she might consider abandoning her habit of trying to end every First Minister’s Questions session with a killer quip.

Patrick Harvie was accused of betraying a manifesto pledge. Picture: Jane Barlow

Patrick Harvie was accused of betraying a manifesto pledge. Picture: Jane Barlow

Ms Davidson said that she had deduced that the SNP’s main political priority was ‘separation not education’, a line that she had first used last week.

The barb fell flat on a rather subdued FMQs that had mercifully few mentions of the topic of independence.

Indeed, Ms Davidson’s forensic questioning of Nicola Sturgeon might have been better served by ending without a single dig on the SNP’s raison d’etre.

No substitute for teaching experience

The session had started well for the Tory Leader, who was probing Ms Sturgeon on the SNP’s record on education.

Scotland is 4,000 teachers down, said Ms Davidson, and even substitutes were becoming hard to come by for the nation’s put upon head teachers.

With Ms Davidson saying that independence was the priority, she made a slight strategic error in allowing Nicola Sturgeon to rhyme off her Government’s achievements.

A complaint from the Tory leader that the independence referendum was the SNP’s sole focus, needling the First Minister on a two day debate on the subject, allowed Ms Sturgeon’s best moment at FMQs in a number of weeks.

READ MORE: Scots don’t want separate Brexit deal

Slamming Ms Davidson for her shoehorned reference to the constitutional issue, the First Minister rattled off a list of what she and her Ministers had done since last week.

The SNP backbenchers, subdued as their party’s record on education had been put through the wringer by Ruth Davidson, were fired up by Nicola Sturgeon bigging up her own work on the ‘day job’.

John Swinney, usually the calm and reserved figure on the Government front bench, shouted ‘oh yes!’ as Ms Sturgeon concluded her back-and-forth with Ruth Davidson.

Serious matters

There was little bite in the exchanges between the First Minister and Kezia Dugdale, with the Labour leader sombre as she discussed the concerns of survivors of mesh implants.

The controversial surgical procedure was halted in Scotland after women reported a number of debilitating side effects.

Ms Dugdale read a letter from the daughter of one of those survivors, saying that she had lost her Mother to mesh, leaving her a shell of the woman she once was.

Nicola Sturgeon was told that the survivors had no faith in an official report that they had called a whitewash and a cover-up.

The First Minister urged Dugdale and indeed the survivors themselves, to listen to Health Secretary who gave a statement later in parliament.

Ms Dugdale silenced the normally noisy chamber by speculating that the First Minister would not let any of her loved ones go through a controversial mesh procedure.

The First Minister noted that the report would look into the thorny issue of implied consent.

It might have been difficult listening as the horrors of the survivors were listed, but it was a rare change to see substantive, important issues discussed by Labour and SNP alike.

Patrick the Patsy?

Perhaps most frustrating of all was the contribution of Green leader Patrick Harvie, who raised the important issue of Theresa May triggering Article 50.

Mr Harvie seemed to momentarily forget that as leader of a party his job is to hold the Government account, not the opposition.

The Green MSP said that it was astonishing that the Tories had raised the issue of public sector recruitment with the spectre of Brexit causing potential crises in NHS hiring.

To groans, the First Minister said that she agreed with Patrick Harvie that the Great Repeal Bill presents a threat to Holyrood as Westminster prepares to take powers back from Brussels.

With the Greens lambasted for abandoning a manifesto pledge to back another referendum, this could have been the week for Patrick Harvie to differentiate himself from the SNP Government.

Instead, he chose to seemingly placate the only pro-indy masses with a soft ball question that would make even the most loyal of Nicola Sturgeon’s backbenchers blush.