Oh dear Johann … and you were doing so well too

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
Well, how did she do.  Her first day in the hot seat since replacing Iain Gray as leader of the Labour party in Scotland?
 
The answer is fine, up to a point.  That point however was when Labour’s newest leader, Johann Lamont, decided to imply that the Scottish government’s budget decisions may have led to the death of a toddler.

By a Newsnet reporter
 
Well, how did she do.  Her first day in the hot seat since replacing Iain Gray as leader of the Labour party in Scotland?
 
The answer is fine, up to a point.  That point however was when Labour’s newest leader, Johann Lamont, decided to imply that the Scottish government’s budget decisions may have led to the death of a toddler.

Ms Lamont had ditched the bitter ranting of former leader Iain Gray.  In place was the softer spoken politician, eager to co-operate on areas of shared agreement but prepared to hold the Scottish government to account.

The softer consensual voice was enhanced by the hand gestures, reaching out across the chamber towards the First Minister – the body language exuded consensus and co-operation.

The subject was the dreadful murder of Declan Hainey, and Johann Lamont was ultimately asking if an inquiry might be merited – a not unreasonable question which resulted in a not unreasonable answer.

The unfortunate mispronouncing of the name of an earlier young victim of neglect could be overlooked – the First Minister himself made the same minor error.

Ms Lamont asked what the Scottish budget could do to make sure the most vulnerable were protected, again a reasonable question.


“I’m asking the First Minister to have an independent enquiry into how our most vulnerable children are being affected by the budget choices his government have made.”


With Christmas imminent it reflected the general mood, both within and beyond the chamber and would have been an excellent way to end the year – the real jousting could wait until 2012.

However, this well-executed pre-Christmas performance was shattered somewhat with Ms Lamont’s next remark that jarred with the solemnness and concern she had exuded.

“If we work together, if were honest we can get this right” she said before adding  “I’m asking the First Minister to have an independent enquiry into how our most vulnerable children are being affected by the budget choices his government have made.”

It was as unnecessary and it was cheap.  It shattered the spirit that had been cultivated and left some on the SNP front benches shaking their head whilst others reacted more volubly.

In the context of the subject, child murders, Ms Lamont’s remark was either calculated and cynical or ad-hoc and clumsily phrased.

Whatever, the table thumping by Labour MSPs that accompanied Ms Lamont’s first appearance as leader seemed to increase in intensity as she sat down.

The First Minister looked genuinely disappointed and remarked that the direction that Johann Lamont had taken her question did not reflect her aspirations at the start of the session.

It spoiled a decent debut performance.

BBC Scotland view

According to BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor, Ms Lamont’s handled the sensitive matter “deftly” and articulated the concerns of mothers.

BBC Scotland’s political editor referred to Ms Lamont’s suggestion that SNP budget cuts had left children vulnerable by saying:

“Ms Lamont broadened her point about an inquiry to include the perspective that cuts in local authority budgets might make matters worse.

This generated an outbreak of growling on the Nationalist benches …”

This, I would venture to suggest, is entirely inaccurate as Ms Lamont’s quote demonstrates. 

Ms Lamont quite clearly asked for an enquiry “into how our most vulnerable children are being affected by the budget choices” – the key phrase is “are being affected” not “might be affected”.

The “might make matters worse” interpretation of Ms Lamont’s statement by Mr Taylor is intriguing.

It did not generate an outbreak of “growling”, it generated an outbreak of disgust – a wholly different thing altogether.  Some shook their heads, some looked saddened and some were vocal in their disapproval because they immediately appreciated the implication of Ms Lamont’s words.

It was the one newsworthy moment of the whole exchange.  To completely miss the implication of what was said by the new Labour leader and also put a rather pejorative slant on the impact it had on the SNP benches is … unfortunate.