FMQs sketch: Nicola Sturgeon aims to add ermine to Scots vernacular as education jibes bite

Nicola Sturgeon was defiant, if slightly evasive, about Scotland’s educational record at First Minister’s Questions

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minster's Questions (FMQ's) in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minster's Questions (FMQ's) in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Lockdown, furlough, and social distancing are words which will stick long in the memories of Scottish school children over the coming years thanks to Covid-19.

Nicola Sturgeon is keen for another relatively niche word – ermine – to make its way into the vernacular of Scottish politics as the First Minister continued her attack on Ruth Davidson’s apparent distaste for representative democracy.

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At FMQs, mirroring students in England returning to school who trudged glumly to their desks, Nicola Sturgeon returned stern-faced to her podium in the Scottish Parliament to face up to another volley of questions on education.

Ruth Davidson, who always receives an A for articulation if perhaps a C (grades to be confirmed pending John Swinney and the SQA’s input) for performance since her return to the front benches, began the new school year (albeit delayed) by pulling her favourite of the First Minister’s pigtails.

"Yesterday the First Minister announced plans for a referendum bill,” the Scottish Tory leader said, “why is that more important than an education bill?”

Sturgeon, who has overseen a U-turn on blended learning, a U-turn on exam results, and record lows in PISA surveys (that’s just in the last 12 months), responded that the government was improving standards, rather than plotting her next independence escape plan from the classroom.

Then came a brief lesson in the meaning of ‘democracy’. “On a basic matter of democracy,” Sturgeon said, “I believe it is for the people of Scotland to choose their own future.

"I believe in democracy, I think we now know that Ruth Davidson doesn’t.”

But Davidson responded by ticking off the cocky pupil, saying Sturgeon ‘doesn’t believe in it when she doesn’t like the answer”.

She turned to marking the First Minister’s homework. Of the SQA’s decision to cover less ground in the coming year’s curriculum, Davidson said Sturgeon’s response that it was “acceptable” was circled with red pen and underlined as “not good enough”.

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Davidson continued: “It was her that said a flagship education bill was needed to fix Scottish education, not us, it was her who said closing the attainment gap was what she wanted to be judged by, and her record simply doesn’t stand the test”.

It was a strong A+ for the Edinburgh student, who finished with asking the First Minister if “warning signs” about education should be her focus.

The vocabulary lesson was next from Sturgeon, and another reminder that while Davidson may be marking her homework, it will be the electorate that provide the final grade.

She said: "Instead we have Ruth Davidson who wants to continue to be a politician but without the consent of a single person across this country.

“[Davidson] has the brass neck to lecture the rest of us on scrutiny and accountability."

To hammer the point home for those not listening at the back, Sturgeon finished with her favourite reminder.

“There is no ermine cloak in the world will cover up that hypocrisy,” she said.

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The schoolyard rumours must be true, did you know Ruth Davidson is to become a peer?

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