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Wings Over Scotland

First Minister’s Questions, 10-11-11

Posted on November 10, 2011 by

One of the most dismaying aspects of the state of Scottish politics is the way that the weekly Holyrood joust between the party leaders appears to be conducted solely for the benefit of those in the chamber, with no regard at all for the watching electorate. This week's episode was a case in point.

Iain Gray chose to spend his entire allotted time battering on about whether an independent Scotland would automatically become a member of the EU, and under what conditions, particularly in terms of currency. This, we'd hazard, is somewhere near the bottom of the average voter's priorities at the moment – given that we're several years away from having to think about it, and that the way things are going you wouldn't necessarily want to bet your mortgage on the EU and/or the Euro existing at all by then –  but the opposition sense a weakness (not unreasonably) in the Scottish Government's disappointing refusal to release its legal advice on the subject, and so we get a concerted attempt to score a fairly meaningless playground point rather than usefully addressing any real-world issues of actual concern to the Scottish people.

As the session showed, the simple fact is that nobody knows what will happen with regard to Scotland's EU membership in the event of independence, not least because it's a decision wholly outside the influence of anyone in Holyrood. Both sides were able to quote a litany of sources supporting their respective views, none of them in any way definitive, and the exchange ended with nobody any the wiser, resulting only in the generation of massive heat but absolutely no light. (FMQs does seem to be a bottomless well of the former, and so is perhaps the ultimate in renewable energy sources. Who needs oil?)

Ruth Davidson's debut appearance at the front of the Conservative benches was no better than Gray's ineffectual jabbing, pointlessly repeating the futile demand that the Unionist parties have been making for the past seven months – namely that the SNP should hold the referendum immediately. It's perhaps fitting that on the eve of Armistice Day, the spiritual leader of the Union would choose to adopt the Douglas Haig approach to battle: if you've got a strategy and it's failing again and again and again, keep doing it anyway just in case the 50th time is the charm. The SNP are extremely well entrenched on the high ground here – having clearly laid out their proposed timing in the election campaign and getting an unprecedented mandate from the electorate – and Davidson's feeble shelling didn't so much as scuff the barbed wire.

Willie Rennie's question was so boring we've forgotten it already, and the entire spectacle was an unedifying waste of everyone's time. And since the agenda of FMQs is set by the opposition leaders, for that they must carry most of the blame.

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