FMQs – less is more

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Less is certainly more these days as First Minister Alex Salmond adopts a more sober and statesmanlike tone when dealing with his Labour counterpart Iain Gray and others at First Ministers Questions.

Gone is the raising of the voice and the bombast as he struggles to be heard over the din from opposition benches, gone also is the desire to meet vituperative like with like….


Less is certainly more these days as First Minister Alex Salmond adopts a more sober and statesmanlike tone when dealing with his Labour counterpart Iain Gray and others at First Ministers Questions.

Gone is the raising of the voice and the bombast as he struggles to be heard over the din from opposition benches, gone also is the desire to meet vituperative like with like.  This is a more considered First Minister and one that has embraced with zeal the opportunity that this more respectful atmosphere offers.

This was certainly in evidence at the latest FMQ session as the First Minister was confronted with an irate Iain Gray who spat, shouted and insulted his way through the proceedings, at one point actually boasting that the new Curriculum for Excellence would be “killed stone dead” by industrial action.

There have been suggestions that a string of complaints about the behaviour of the Labour benches has compelled the Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson to act.  Whatever the reason, the proceedings are now much more civilised and are far more inkeeping with the status of the Holyrood chamber.

Mr Gray, who is yet to appreciate the need to modify his own style, decided that the Curriculum for Excellence would be the subject of this week’s attacks – Mr Gray doesn’t ask questions, he makes mini attack speeches instead.

The highlighting of the concerns many have with the new Curriculum for Excellence was a fair enough point and it was underlined by the recent decision of two Unions to ballot members on industrial action, a decision alluded to by Mr Gray.

However, Mr Gray sailed dangerously close to the ‘misleading’ wind yet again when he asserted that industrial action wasn’t just being considered but was already certain; “That’s why they’re taking industrial action against this SNP government” said Mr Gray, who also claimed with a degree of inappropriate relish that such action would “kill the Curriculum for Excellence stone dead”.

Alex Salmond’s response to this, and ‘cuts’ claims from the Labour group leader, were all the more effective given their calm reassured delivery.  Mr Salmond warned Iain Gray against misrepresenting others, advising that he “Mustn’t project his own political feelings onto the delegates of the Educational Institute of Scotland”.

Mr Salmond went on to quote Ronnie Smith of the EIS Union who said: “Budget and service cuts are being visited upon our schools and colleges and universities in the twilight years of a Labour government”

The fundamental weakness of Labour claims of SNP education cuts was further exposed when the First Minister pointed out that the SNP had awarded councils a greater share of the budget than they themselves had inherited from Labour.  This, explained Mr Salmond, meant that if Labour were claiming cuts when the proportion had increased then it followed that the block grant had to have been reduced by Labour when in power at Westminster;  a £500,000 reduction to be precise claimed Mr Salmond.

The questions from Annabelle Goldie and Tavish Scott focussed on the judiciary and Scottish Enterprise spending respectively.

Ms Goldie’s question on a Supreme Court human rights ruling was answered well by the First Minister who went to great lengths to clarify the position of the Scottish government and judiciary on the matter she raised.

Mr Scott’s question was petty in the extreme and questioned the spending by an organisation on sundry items, there is little merit in dwelling on it.  Indeed the contrast with what his own Westminster colleague was saying only yards away couldn’t have been more stark – ‘brutal’ was the word Michael Moore used to describe the economic mess left behind by Labour.

So, the main part of the session ended with no headline grabbing revelations and a refreshing more respectful silence when MSPs are speaking.

However, Iain Gray’s over reliance on insult and small minded swipes at both the First Minister and others from the SNP government is now out of date.  He also needs to tread carefully when commenting on the supposed actions and beliefs of third party organisations; his allegations relating to Skills Development Scotland are still fresh in the mind.

The quieter more civil atmosphere that pervades the chamber is a reflection of the new era of political respect.  Mr Salmond has been quick to pick up on this and is using it in order to expose Mr Gray’s unedifying style.

In this more respectful and less rowdy atmosphere, the Labour group leader is certainly standing out – but not for the reasons he would want.