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Wings Over Scotland

Scotland’s other shame

Posted on February 10, 2012 by

First Minister's Questions is rarely a hugely edifying spectacle, but this blog could barely watch to the end of yesterday's proceedings. Labour's leader exhibited a heady mix of ignorance and xenophobia, while the FM's Conservative counterpart opted for a barely-believable combination of direct personal abuse (which could truthfully be paraphrased as "You're fat, ha ha!") and petty timewasting. If we tell you, dear readers, that Willie Rennie took on the role of the calm, intelligent voice of reason (with a dull but substantive question about freedom-of-information laws), you'll perhaps grasp the full degree to which the other two opposition leaders lost the plot.

It was one of the rowdiest FMQs in recent memory, with the Presiding Officer forced to repeatedly call for order, specifically warn Labour's Jackie Baillie to behave herself, and on one occasion even resort to a sharp bang of her gavel in order to silence the cacophanous hooting and jeering coming from – mostly – the opposition benches. The First Minister himself looked dismayed, surprised and somewhat ashamed at the picture of Scotland's political elite being portrayed to the world, and it would be hard for any impartial observer to disagree with his judgement.

Johann Lamont had chosen the new Forth Bridge as her line of attack, and angrily demanded to know why filthy foreigners (in this case, the Chinese) had been awarded what she called an "£800m steel contract" to produce the materials for the crossing. Salmond explained that no such thing had happened, noting that the steel accounted for only 5-10% of the sum quoted and that there were no Scottish companies industrially capable producing the type of steel that would be provided by the Chinese. The actual value of that element of the contract, he pointed out, was somewhere between £20m and £60m, rather than the £800m Lamont had claimed.

Lamont wasn't to be deflected by anything so basic and trivial as being utterly wrong. She reasserted that the Scottish Government was "spending £800m on steel" and that "not a single job has been created in Scotland" as a result. Salmond got back to his feet, admonished Lamont for not listening to the previous answer, and added that procurement rules cited by the previous Labour FM Jack McConnell meant that contracts couldn't simply be given to Scottish companies regardless of other tenders.

But it was to no avail, as she ignored the points and rambled on at enervating length about how dastardly foreign workers were profiting from Scotland's bridge before Salmond comprehensively reiterated the hard facts – Lamont's numbers were wildly wrong to the point of comedy (perhaps Andy Kerr had done her research), not a single Scottish steel fabrication company had tendered to supply the core steel for the bridge because there WERE no Scottish steel fabrication companies, and that all contracts had by law to be awarded competitively.

But the worst was still to come. Ruth Davidson for the Tories stood up and decided to show the world that she thought the most important issue requiring to be urgently addressed by the Scottish Parliament was whether the First Minister should be allowed to discuss rugby on the telly or not. She used the first of her allotted questions for a personal assault that was both mind-numbingly vacuous and disgracefully dishonest, accusing Salmond of "likening a BBC employee to a Nazi" and demanding an apology.

We've discussed "GauleiterGate" in some detail on this blog before, and despite his calm tone Salmond could barely conceal his contempt at the cheap, mendacious smear. He pointed out that he'd done no such thing, quoting the Chambers Dictionary definition of the term meaning a petty bureaucrat and noting that its use in such a context is commonplace (of which more very shortly). He then went on to refute Davidson's line – repeated in many newspapers earlier in the week – that he'd proactively "demanded" to appear on the Six Nations coverage, by reading out an email from the BBC Head Of Sport, Carl Hicks, which ran "I'd like to ask if the First Minister will take part…" in the show from which he was later de-invited.

Anyone thinking that the mere establishment of the facts would settle the matter, however, clearly can't have been paying attention during Johann Lamont's questions, and sure enough Davidson wasn't letting it lie. Showing the command of detail for which her FMQ performances have become known, she started off by reassigning Mr Hicks' gender – describing him as "she", having presumably misheard "Carl" as "Carol" and not having bothered to know who she was talking about beforehand (even though Salmond had explicitly referred to "Mr Hicks" and called him "he" no fewer than three times in his previous answer).

But Davidson had further depths to plumb. She announced that she'd been researching the First Minister's qualifications as a rugby expert, sneering that "he has the build for it" and bizarrely going on to list Salmond's educational and employment background, trumpeting as if it was a royal decree the revelation that he'd never played for any of his school, university or work's rugby teams.

So pleased was Davidson with this spectacularly irrelevant information (as far as we're aware most professional rugby journalists have somehow managed to offer their opinions without the benefit of a playing career, and nobody had at any point attempted to ascribe any expertise on the subject to Salmond beyond that of a fan) that she almost forgot to make any sort of point at all, but quickly tacked on some sort of vague accusation about wasting the BBC's time – somewhat ironically, as she'd just devoted her entire allotted amount of dialogue with the First Minister and weekly national broadcast coverage to pursuing this ludicrously insubstantial name-calling rather than anything of more pressing concern to the Scottish people.

None of the opposition's new leaders have covered themselves in glory at FMQs thus far, but Thursday's episode was a new low. We can only assume that the SNP's continued rise in the opinion polls is in some part due to the grotesque, childish and embarrassing ineptitude so often seen in Lamont, Davidson and Rennie's most high-profile weekly display to the voters. The partisan side of us hopes they continue. But the side which doesn't want to cringe every time the rest of the world sees how Scotland conducts its political business can scarcely bear any more of such humilation.

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8 to “Scotland’s other shame”

  1. Bugger (the Panda)

    And this is going out Worldwide.
    What bunch of Numpties and a searing endorsement of the quality of the "opposition."
    Nothing constructive, nothing of substance and nothing of reality.
    Do yoiu suppose that the SNP have cornered the upper gene pool in Scotland or more probably anybody with more that half a brain would not wish to be associated with this rabble.
    Sad, for Scotland.

  2. Erchie

    Munguin's Republuc cover usage of 'gauleiter' in Hansard

  3. Doug Daniel

    “Do you suppose that the SNP have cornered the upper gene pool in Scotland?”

    They have. The dogmatic fervour which is required to believe in the continued existence of a failing union is completely antithetical to intelligent debate. Belief in the union is comparable to belief in creationism. It requires an ability to completely deny inconvenient facts. Even the remotest semi-intellectual analysis of the arguments in favour of the union show it up to be nothing more than a nostalgic yearning for a history that never quite existed. I've been drawn into a protracted Twitter argument with the son of a Labour MP at the moment, and really, it's like trying to argue with someone who thinks the earth is flat, and refuses to accept any evidence showing otherwise.
    Unionists are intellectually inferior. There, I've said it.

  4. bobby mcpherson

    Thank you wings over Scotland for this article. I watched FMQ's yesterday with toe curling embarassment and a profound outrage at the appalling, disrespectful and downright disgraceful treatment of Alex salmond by lamont and davidson. I could've cried easily. I used to enjoy the weekly thrashing of the opposition until I realised what was happening. They I'm sure must know the Q's for his Eckness are conjured from lies and manipulations they cannae be that stupit – surely? But what's important is that what they 'hit the First minister w'' is what the right wing anti independence media run with. That's what's presented to us public – and you're right yesterday was a new low. The personal attacks and put downs are unacceptable and an embarassment to the Scottish people.

  5. bobby mcpherson

    Nae wonder labour politicians are resigning. Anyone wi' any self repect and a smidgeon of insight who cares about Scotland widnae be seen deid hingin' aboot wi' that lot!

  6. Erchie

    You must have been watching the wrong FMQs
    according to today's Herald Lamont had Alex Salmond begging for mercy!!

  7. douglas clark

    The problem, and it is a problem, with this is that other, less sensible outlets than this allow the lie to be repeated.
    There are numerous posters that take it, perhaps with a pinch of vindictive unionist salt, that Lamont was right!
    It is as Doug Daniel says above, you are dealing with creationists here. No matter the evidence, e.g. that no Scottish company even tendered for this work, or that it constitutes, at most 10% of the cost of the overall project, we have people assuming that there is truth in what Lamont had to say. The SNP are selling out the Scottish workforce. It is an irrefutible fact that a £1.5 billion pound project was passed to the Chinese in exchange for two Pandas.
    Well, it wasn't, and she was talking mince.
    Never mind that we can't actually produce this stuff, never mind that our infrastructure is in ruins, a Labour leader said it so it must be true!
    It is desperately sad that anyone keeps their eyes wide shut like that. I seem to recall some other comment that Chinese steel is of poorer quality. I'd have thought the buyer determined the quality and employed metallurgists to make sure we weren't being sold a pup.
    Well, what she said  isn't true and she is enormously above her pay grade.
    I think she knows it.

  8. Longshanker

    Fandabadozie Lamont is only the product of an ever sliding scale of mediocrity since the death of Big Donald – the only Scottish Labour politician of any stature to have graced the Scottish Parliamentary talking shop.
    I don't think she'll recover too quickly, rightly so, from that unbelievably amateurish mistake for a long time. And is it just me, but when I watched this on i-player she looked like she had the mother of skelpet face beamers while haplessly ploughing on.
    Surely Doltish Davidson can't be so obtuse as to miss the point over Rugbygate. This is an unequivocal instance of craven behaviour by the BBC which does require serious investigation. Most of the other claims of BBC bias are merely a reflection of the people making the claim though.
    I know Labour people who'll quite freely and without irony tell you that the BBC is a Tory institution. And some of the Tories I know can formulate almost plausible sounding arguments against the BBC which make it sound like it's only a matter of time before the old Soviet flag is flying at their headquarters and they rebrand themselves Pravda.
     Consequently, I don't think King Alex does himself any favours by proclaiming that he's assembling a dossier. It makes him look and sound just as churlish and finger wagging as any other politician in power with a grudge against the BBC.
    The BBC do have some undeniably particularly poor form here though. If I remember rightly – in principle – they did the same thing in 2009 by refusing to broadcast the appeal for the people of Gaza. The arguments for their actons were the same: "journalistic impartiality". But, as I see it, the reasons were pretty similar to the excuses made in King Alex's case i.e.  they caved into the fear of political pressure from the incumbent UK government at the time.
    Shocking, if not frightening.
    Besides, you don't extend an invitation to someone of the status and office of First Minister and then almost immediately withdraw it. At best it appears crass, amateurish, disrespectful and rude. At worst it looks like its caving into a UK Tory government. Either way, the BBC loses.

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