First of all, I want to say that I am flattered that Subrosa asked me to cover for her today with FMQs. However, this is her baby and I’m sure you will be delighted to know that normal service will be resumed next week.
My first question is: does anyone know why on earth the opposition party leaders start their questions with the same questions every week, to which the First Minister gives the same replies? It’s a bit of a waste of time at their salary level.
But then again, why stop at the first question for Iain Gray. He really seems to have little appreciation, even after all this time, that he should ask questions for which the First Minister has no answer, and certainly ones that cannot be turned right back at him and at the Westminster Labour executive. So his questions were all about capital spending. Capital spending which is of course much governed by the amount of money that is given to Scotland by Westminster. Alex was able to point out that there are drastic cuts promised by London in the money available for public spending. Why then Gray thought it appropriate to blame the Scottish government for cuts was beyond me. Of course he wanted the opportunity to mention GARL, and SFT. But as usual his information was out of date, and he put so much into his questions that Alex was able to answer only the bits which showed the government in a good light.
Annabel was on form on the subject of PE in schools, but she too was out of date with her figures. The manifesto promised two hours of PE a week for children. Although huge progress has been made, there is a deal still to achieve. But Opposition leaders must remember that a four year term of government means just that. The Curriculum for Excellence starts this year, and results should be judged once it has been put into place. These questions gave Alex the opportunity to point out the dichotomy between the Tory’s desire to cut public spending and the demands that all schools have tennis courts (suggested perhaps by the exciting new of Andy Murray’s win, which had come minutes before). However, Annabel’s one liner that forms the heading here was a classic and had the whole House (and me) in stitches.
Tavish made a sensible contribution by asking about the increasing number of people being turned away from colleges. The First Minister responded by agreeing with him. He pointed out that the funding for colleges had increased in real terms and extra money had been made available for areas especially badly hit by the recession. Labour jeered at this exchange which gave Alex the chance to point out that when constructive points were made he would be ready to listen, but that that never happened from the Labour leader.Tavish sat down with a beam of pleasure on his face having been praised by the head boy.
Further questions from Christine Graeme and Mary Scanlon dealt with the horrific problem of children self harming. Jack McConnel looking stubbly, but with his tie on this time, asked about mental health facilities in his constituency, and from Angela Constance there was a question regarding support for prison staff, following a prison disturbance in her constituency.