In brief: 'Largest region of England' the brave

LAST week's European health survey conducted by I2SARE (Health Inequalities Indicators in the Regions of Europe) described Scotland "as the largest region of England".

It's enough to make your blood boil - an alarming medical condition that would almost inevitably lead to a heart attack or stroke in England's largest region.

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN

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LORD Forsyth of Drumlean, below, the former Scottish secretary, heads for Antarctica on Boxing Day to climb the 16,067ft Mount Vinson for Marie Curie and Children in Need India. He has already collected 330,000 for his cause.

The effort has provided an insight to the Conservative peer's phenomenal contacts book. "What has been really encouraging is that people from every party have donated from the House of Lords and the Commons. Every single living former prime minister has contributed," he told Drumlanrig. Is this the first time Lady Thatcher, Sir John Major, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have agreed on anything? Lord Forsyth will blog on his adventure at www.lordforsyth.com, where donations can still be made.

BREAKING STALE BREAD

THE atmosphere between the SNP and Labour is increasingly testy ahead of May's election. Looking for a seat in the Scottish Parliament canteen on Thursday, education secretary Mike Russell, below, found one next to his shadow, Labour's education spokesman Des McNulty. The pair, who were about to clash ahead of the debate on universities, exchanged pleasantries before studiously ignoring one another during lunch. Then, as he left, Russell askedMcNulty: "So, are you going to ask for me to resign?" Paranoia or mickey-taking? You decide.

ATTACK ON LAIRD O' PAIRTS

RUSSELL'S goading of Labour politicians continued in the chamber as he launched his green paper on university funding. He accused Labour peer Lord Foulkes of "bellowing like a sea lion". And when he was paying his customary homage to a long lost golden age of Scottish education, he said: "Our history is full of the successes of the lads an' lasses o' pairts," before adding: "Of which Lord Foulkes is not one".

The implication was, of course, that Russell, a novelist and self-styled intellectual, regards himself (he's an expert in self-regarding) as the "lad of pairts" that Foulkes is not. Perhaps he has a point. Although born in Kent, Russell was at Marr College, Troon. Foulkes, meanwhile, is a product of Haberdashers' Boys' School, Hertfordshire.