Dan Vevers Does FMQs: Education, education, aviation

CommonSpace columnist Dan Vevers returns with his take on this week's First Minister's Questions

THERE was a common theme going at FMQs this week, until bearded wood-nymph Patrick Harvie ruined it all by talking about planes or something.

Education, education, education

That theme was that even our smart children are getting stupider and stupider, and that if things continue as they are we’ll have an entire country of little Sean Spicers.

This just confirmed everything I already thought about the next generation, with all the rubbish things they’re into, like Snapchat and Ed Sheeran.

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson was straight to business, castigating the SNP for the Sutton Trust’s new report which indicates that bright pupils in Scotland from poor backgrounds lag more than two years behind their richer peers.

The report also suggests, as Davidson put it, that "there is no specific area where able children in Scotland really excel". She added: "Over the last 10 years we have seen a pronounced and sustained decline in able pupils’ performance in science equivalent to around a year in schooling."

A 15 year old in England is more likely to be a high achiever in science than one in Scotland, Davidson said. Why is that?

The first minister felt it important to note the Sutton Trust’s report was based on Pisa scores from two years ago, which preceded her government’s latest reforms. In other words, these findings came out eight years into the SNP’s time in government rather than 10.

But she rightly noted that the attainment gap between rich and poor is worse in England - and they might be better at science, but we’re better at reading and maths, and by my count I make that 4-1 Scotland.

The SNP backbenches let out a collective groan when Kezia Dugdale rose to ask about the same report. The Labour leader snapped at them that they could "groan all they like but it’s true and they should read it", at which point they started grumbling about the homework.

She said that both the SNP and the Tories were failing to get their noggins around a "simple truth" - that the only way to help young people achieve is to invest in local schools rather than cut local services.

But she rightly noted that the attainment gap between rich and poor is worse in England - and they might be better at science, but we’re better at reading and maths, and by my count I make that 4-1 Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon pointed to the new attainment fund, which is "putting £120m in the coming financial year into the hands of head teachers in 95 per cent of schools across this country", adding to existing funding of £50m.

She also tried to embarrass Dugdale by highlighting the approach of Labour-run Inverclyde Council, which she said seems to be happy enough with its funding given that it is continuing to keep the council tax frozen.

"The only thing on the up under the SNP is cuts to schools," Dugdale said. "Even with a record as poor as this, a primary pupil could do the math. Why can't the first minister?"

Wait, sorry, track back. Are you kidding me, Kezia? Two weeks ago you imported "alternative facts" from across the pond, and now "do the math"? Why do you do this to me, Kez? Why? IF YOU LOVE AMERICA SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU JUST LIVE THERE?

"Kezia Dugdale certainly can’t do the math," responded Sturgeon. NICOLA. WTF?

DON’T ENCOURAGE THIS.

Aviation, aviation, aviation

Next up was the bearded one, Patrick Harvie. While he didn’t carry on with the same theme, he did pick one which at least rhymed with 'education' and which together could probably be the basis for a banging tune about getting an education in the field of aviation. Although Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did already cover that in their 1991 hit 'Learning To Fly'.

The Scottish Greens’ co-convener called on Sturgeon to drop her government’s plans next year for a 50 per cent cut to Air Passenger Duty (although they’re giving it a new name for some reason which is beyond my paygrade to know).

Harvie insisted the planned changes were not evidence-based or costed, which he called "astonishing", and that the cut would inevitably increase carbon emissions.

The first minister said many families wanting to go on holiday would see the changes as a welcome "tax cut" - and I’m sure we all agree that rising seas and an acrid smog enveloping the central belt are but a small price to pay if it means Vera and the kids can get away to Lanzarote after that messy divorce we had.

A Fluffy ending

Up 'til now the session had all stayed quite within Holyrood’s jurisdiction, but leave it to the backbenchers to steer course back into the minefield of reserved matters.

Notably, one Oliver Mundell, aka Fluffy Junior, aka Son of David. He’s just like his dad but younger and ganglier. It’s freaky.

He rose to say the SNP don’t respect "the democratic process" and to make the point that his constituents in Dumfrieshire didn’t vote for the SNP during last May’s Scottish elections - therefore they should be exempt from a second independence referendum if it comes, or something.

In the politest possible terms, this is batshit mental. One minute he’s a unionist, the next minute he’s wanting to make Dumfries a part of England. I think he was trying to be clever. But anyway.

Personally, I think it’s the kids who need to buck up their ideas. We always talk about improving education, but isn’t what we really need just improved children?

Sturgeon was in her element, obviously. The Tory MSPs at Holyrood don’t represent their constituents, she said, but "the Tory government at Westminster", aka the League of Shadows, aka the Trump-loving refugee-haters.

Sixty-two per cent of Scottish voters backed Remain, she reminded Fluffy Mk2 (although to be fair to Mundell, it was only 53 per cent in Dumfries and Galloway). The first minister again struck her oft-repeated note that she was determined not to allow Scotland to be dragged off the "hard Brexit cliff-edge".

All in all, this was surely a nice respite to what was otherwise a quite relentless session for Nicola Sturgeon, where she seemed generally on the defensive.

Personally, I think it’s the kids who need to buck up their ideas. We always talk about improving education, but isn’t what we really need just improved children?

The politicians and I all get a week’s break now due to the parliamentary recess but check back in a fortnight and I promise you, hand on heart, it might not be waste of time.

Pictures courtesy of the Scottish Parliament

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