Cash for questions? – Not on this form Iain

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Last week’s First Ministers Questions was an interesting affair.  Labour’s Iain Gray alleged that nurses in Aberdeen were being asked to work for nothing, zilch, nada, no pay – nout.

If true, then this was indeed shocking.  Members of one of the most respected professions in Scotland were being treated no better than modern day slaves and the leader of Labour’s Holyrood group was angry.

Yes, if true indeed; before giving our own analysis of last weeks clash between Mr Gray and Scotland’s First Minister we would urge you to watch the full proceedings in order that you may form your own opinion, you can then hear how the BBC’s Sarah Paterson interpreted the events.

Here is Iain Gray facing Alex Salmond:

Rather an interesting interpretation from Ms Paterson who ignored Iain Gray’s theme altogether and instead concentrated on his final flourish.  In fact the reversal of the decision on the Mull facility had already been covered by BBC Radio Scotland the evening before at tea time and yes, it too was ‘critical’ of the SNP.

Ms Paterson did though cover the questions from Tavish Scott and Annabelle Goldie, so why the reluctance to highlight the questions from Iain Gray?

Surely it couldn’t have had anything to do with the fact that Mr Gray’s claims about nurses having to work for nothing were, how can we put this ….. false?  Now Iain Gray’s accusations were pretty clear, there was no ambiguity at all, nurses he claimed were being asked to work an extra shift for nothing.

Gray: “They [Grampian NHS] are asking nurses to work an extra shift for nothing”

Alex Salmond explained quite clearly that the nurses weren’t in actual fact receiving nothing.  The First Minister described Iain Gray’s allegations as “untrue” (that in itself was surely newsworthy).  Nurses, he said, were being given the time back in lieu in the form of extra breaks.  The definition of ‘time in lieu’ is “leave given to compensate an employee for additional hours worked”; it is a well known phrase amongst those of us who work hourly.

Now, if I was a nurse I wouldn’t be happy about an extra break, I would expect something a bit better – holiday in lieu perhaps, even cash.  But this isn’t the line that Iain Gray took, Iain Gray decided to spice up the nurses complaint and turn it into something it wasn’t.  In doing so he completely rendered the nurses justifiable concerns redundant and in our opinion he let them down.

Worse though was when Mr Gray clearly destroyed his own argument when he said: “Those surgical nurses are being asked to work an extra shift and in return they are being given 15 minute unpaid breaks throughout their other shifts.”

This is called a ‘gaffe’, a blunder, which usually results in headlines the following day poking fun at the unfortunate politician.  And that’s where we take issue with the BBC reporter who failed to even mention this part of the proceedings. 

Spectacular gaffe
Only last week this same reporter regaled Radio Scotland listeners with a mocking commentary on the First Minister after he forgot the surname of the leader of Edinburgh council, describing it as a “spectacular gaffe”.

So why not the same treatment for Mr Gray?

Surely alleging that nurses are being asked to work for nothing then within minutes admitting they are actually “being given 15 minute unpaid breaks” is slightly more serious than forgetting a name.  Indeed it could be argued that had Mr Gray not clarified the position of Grampian NHS he would have come dangerously close to misleading the chamber.  Mr Gray is fortunate that his own income isn’t dependent on the quality of his questions, he can be safe from any suggestions that he has been paid to ask these.

The most diplomatic thing that can be said about the BBC reporter’s item is that it effectively saved Mr Gray some embarrassment; he wasn’t made to pay for his gaffe, Friday’s newspapers also ‘missed’ it as well – how fortunate for Mr Gray.

The Labour group leader though may well have greater cause for embarrassment should he ever look over his shoulder at the antics of those who sit behind him during the proceedings, the word unbecoming is one that immediately springs to mind.

Footnote:
The BBC’s Brian Taylor, speaking immediately after the proceedings, described Iain Gray as having provided “some evidence” to back his claims.  An interesting claim by Mr Taylor.