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First Minister’s Questions, 24-11-11

Posted on November 24, 2011 by

Holyrood witnessed an exceptionally dismaying FMQs this week, with all three opposition leaders embarrassing themselves to varying degrees. Iain Gray once again wasted his entire allotted time on pointlessly demanding a precise date for the independence referendum, which is still some three or more years distant. The First Minister's replies could have been provided by a tape recording and accurately predicted in advance by a primary-school child or an Old Firm supporter, and Gray was further humiliated by some stinging quotes from prominent Labour figures, including one previously highlighted by this very blog.

The Labour leader also came disturbingly close to an outright lie, in misrepresenting the views of the Parliament's former Presiding Officer George Reid by claiming that Mr Reid wanted the referendum supervised by the Electoral Commission. This was despite Mr Reid making his (somewhat different) actual position painstakingly clear in the Scotsman's letters page on the very same day.

But the real clanger was dropped by the new Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who castigated the Scottish Government for dropping legislation aimed at preventing the reduction of minimum sentences, affecting (among others) rape cases. The First Minister gently informed Ms Davidson that she had been misinformed by her researchers, pointing out that the legislation was in fact going ahead and would be brought before Parliament by the end of this month. Davidson sailed straight over the correction without a suggestion of retraction or apology, and went on to make an impenetrable point about demanding life sentences without possibility of parole for certain serious offences – seemingly asking the Parliament to do so regardless of the restrictions placed on such actions by the European Convention of Human Rights.

For the Lib Dems, Willie Rennie went for a worthless point aimed at the tabloid "Our Brave Boys" audience, demanding to know if Scottish soldiers serving in the British Army would be forced to resign and join a Scottish Army in the event of independence. Once again, an opposition leader could think of no more pressing concerns facing Scotland in 2011 than a trivial and hypothetical issue from a hypothetical future, many years away from anyone needing to worry about it.

Even when given a clear and direct answer from the FM – that no, soldiers would not be forced to do such a thing and would be free to choose which army they wished to serve in – Rennie persisted in some aimless rhetoric about soldiers currently fighting side-by-side somehow being pitched against each other and made to "choose between their colleagues and their country". Salmond slapped the line of attack down uncompromisingly with a retort about coalition-imposed redundancies among serving forces and election results in constituencies with military bases, and that was that.

First Minister's Questions is theatre, but it's nonetheless depressing to see all three opposition leaders so ham-fistedly squandering their main opportunity to hold the government publicly to account, something vital to any functioning democracy. Salmond can occasionally be made to look evasive and blustery at FMQs, but he didn't have to get out of second gear to crush his opponents today. He could have phoned it in, and that's no fit state for any self-respecting Parliament.

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    5 to “First Minister’s Questions, 24-11-11”

    1. Rolf says:

      Great summation. Surely even Labour Party members must have despaired today when Iain 'Groundhog Day' Gray asked about the referendum timing. 
      Someone posted on Twitter that he's probably just repeating this nonsense as it's bound to get re-played all across BBC Scotland's news output. "Ian Gray today demanded that Alex Salmond stops dithering and names a date for his fixed separation referendum, the uncertainty around which is harming the UK economy" etc, etc, ad nauseum.

    2. RevStu says:

      I'm surprised "Groundhog Gray" hasn't caught on as a name. Bit late now, I suppose.

    3. An Duine Gruamach says:

      Yep, too late now.  He's Yestergray's man.

    4. RevStu says:

      Indeed. Soon he will no longer be one of the Grays of our lives.

    5. An Duine Gruamach says:

      Even the Graytest leaders fall in the end, I suppose.



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