FMQs Review: Three times Nicola Sturgeon struggled (and one time she didn't)

Nicola Sturgeon usually emerges from First Minister's Questions, her weekly 45-minute grilling at the Scottish Parliament, relatively unscathed.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA WireScotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

But today she struggled to fight back against a barrage of criticism over the declining performance of Scotland’s schools, following the news earlier this week that the nation is slipping down international league tables.

1) Ruth Davidson went for the jugular

Describing the Pisa scores as “the worst set of results ever recorded”, the Scottish Tory leader pointed out that they followed almost a decade of SNP control of Scotland’s education system.

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In response, Ms Sturgeon admitted – with admirable honesty – that the results were “not good enough” and that as First Minister, she bore ultimate responsibility.

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2) She was confronted with a list of SNP excuses

Warming to her topic, Ms Davidson accused the SNP leader of being a “stuck record” and read out a series of quotes from ministers promising to improve Scottish education.

She quoted Fiona Hyslop pledging to reverse falling standards in 2009; Alasdair Allan promising “progress” in 2013 and Angela Constance saying she’d take personal responsibility for the issue last year.

3) Willie Rennie’s long list of countries

SNP ministers shifted uncomfortably in their seats as the Lib Dem leader began his question like this: “Singapore. Hong Kong, China, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Estonia, Canada, Netherlands, Finland, Denmark. “Slovenia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Norway, Austria, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Russia and France.”

They were, of course, the countries that ranked above Scotland in the Pisa tests. Ouch.

…And one great fightback

Ms Sturgeon played a blinder when the Tory leader said her party wanted to put the SNP’s longest-running education policy, the Curriculum for Excellence, “on probation”. Responding, she quoted back something said by Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith just the previous day: “The principles behind the Curriculum for Excellence are absolutely right.” Zing.

This article first appeared on our sister site iNews