FMQs review: Indyref the elephant in room as Sturgeon falters

Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew Cowan
Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew Cowan
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Alex Salmond was not popular among members of opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament.

The former SNP leader could be rude, dismissive, condescending, self-regarding. And that was on his good days.

Ruth Davidson. Picture: Andrew Cowan

Ruth Davidson. Picture: Andrew Cowan

There’s a lot to be said for the more collegiate approach that Nicola Sturgeon has at least occasionally tried since succeeding her former mentor.

Aside from their weekly political clashes, and their broadly opposing beliefs, it’s hard not to get the impression that on a personal level, the three women who dominate Scottish Politics would normally get on rather well.

But with Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale putting the First Minister on the back foot over education issues, Sturgeon couldn’t help but channel the worst impulses of her predecessor.

Time and again she shook with disappointment and anger that the opposition had the temerity to turn up and ask critical questions of her Government.

Kezia Dugdale speaks at FMQs. Picture: Andrew Cowan

Kezia Dugdale speaks at FMQs. Picture: Andrew Cowan

We look back over a session in which the political issue foremost in everyone’s mind, another independence referendum, took a welcome back seat.

Who do you think you are?

Ruth Davidson’s barbed against the SNP’s somewhat stunted rollout of a new way of doing education of Scotland could have done with a better payoff.

The Tory leader cited an educational charity that had wanted to operate a trial on a different approach to teaching and learning.

The charity, cited Davidson with letters in hand, that the Education Secretary John Swinney had continued to blank the innovators.

Sturgeon is rankled when she starts returning to some of her stock phrases to try and dismiss the concerns of her political opponents.

This week, it was the turn of the phrase “right and proper”.

Sturgeon insisted that it was only “right and proper” that the Scottish Government took its time with what were billed as landmark education reforms.

Davidson’s attack was slightly undermined by a reference to a second referendum (something about if 1000 letters can sink an education bill, could 1000 sink indyref2?) which allowed Sturgeon to claim it was the Tories, not the SNP, who were obsessed with constitutional matters.

The First Minister was unimpressed with that line, and Davidson’s charge that the charity being blanked was indicative that education wasn’t a priority led her to accuse the Tory leader of ‘moaning from the sidelines’.

Davidson was getting through, as the Salmond-esque outbursts from Sturgeon showed, but her final question “Who does she think she is kidding?!” was a bit too hammy and was clearly over rehearsed.

That wasn’t the “right and proper” way for Davidson to underline what had been an effective line of questioning.

Anything Ruth can do

Unfortunately for Salmond, sorry, Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale was happy to pick up exactly where Davidson had left off.

It was a perfect 10 for the Labour leader as she hammered Sturgeon on the ten month delay since Sturgeon promised an education revolution, and categorized the SNP’s reign at Holyrood as ten years of failure on education.

Dugdale delighted in the irony that new Education Secretary John Swinney was having problems dealing with budget problems she claimed were left by the former Finance Secretary, who happened to be a certain John Swinney.

Never one to be knowingly outdone, Sturgeon went full big Eck when she decided to bring up Labour’s poor standing in the polls, another classic trick of the former First Minister.

Sturgeon went personal by quoting an unnamed Labour source who described Kezia Dugdale as a ‘poundshop Ruth Davidson’. How they howled with laughter on the SNP benches.

Sturgeon did hit back well when quoting the controversial leader of Inverclyde Council, who has been trying to undo the council tax freeze for ten years, only to laud his achievement in keeping the freeze in place as local elections loom.

Lumping the two opposition leaders together, Sturgeon pondered why the parties were opposing the Government rather than getting on board.

Perhaps being in Government for over a decade has led Sturgeon to forgot what it is that the word opposition actually means.

Best of the Rest

I’m not sure Patrick Harvie will want to be known as the Shadow Minister for Inexplicably Popular Sitcoms, but his contribution featured just that.

The Green Party leader was using his semi-regular mainstream slot to ask what Nicola Sturgeon made of the teacher who had apparently been told to watch the Big Bang Theory in lieu of proper training.

Unsurprisingly, Sturgeon thought that particular case was unacceptable, though what the ‘right and proper’ response to the issue was was not forthcoming from the First Minister.

Tory Murdo Fraser had an interesting tale to share on a senior SNP Councillor who had made reference to ‘foreign powers with Scotland under the heel for 300 years’ and also used the word ‘quislings’.

Sturgeon, fresh from shouting down Sadiq Khan’s comparison of the SNP to racists, said that any anti-English sentiment wasn’t welcome in her party or the wider independence movement.

Whether the Councillor would face disciplinary action wasn’t made clear, as yet again in First Minister’s Questions, the detail was lacking from the woman in charge.