Craig Paton Does FMQs: The Westminster attack, an ageing population and child mental health makes for a sombre affair

Taking over the First Minister's Questions sketch mantle from Dan Vevers, Craig Paton offers his take on the week's events

THE spectre of the attacks on London hung over the chamber at Holyrood yesterday. First Minister’s Questions was a much lighter affair than usual – there were no attacks, no backhanded quips and no shouting. Instead, the Scottish Parliament joined together to say as one: we will not be beaten.

The leaders of all parties rose to express their condolences to those affected. Willie Rennie spoke of his own experience as an MP, a speech worth listening to. Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale asked about the measures being taken to protect the Scottish people and Patrick Harvie wondered aloud about what would be done to protect our empathy and cohesion.

The first minister summed it up best, though. To conclude the debate she rose to say: "Whatever our disagreements, whatever different relationships we may want from time to time, there are many, many things that regardless of all of that unite us. Not just the human values that we have spoken about but the common interest that we all have to work together to combat terrorism and keep our population safe."

With that, the leaders’ portion was done, and there was nary a whiff of talk about independence. Instead, the focus was on unity. The Scottish Parliament on this day, stood shoulder to shoulder with its sister in London in defiance; steadfast, strong and open.

NHS parking charges and PFI

The first question was granted to Lothian MSP Miles Briggs of the Scottish Conservatives. Briggs told the chamber of a plan to increase the parking charges for staff, patients and visitors at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary from £7 to £15, because how else are we going to pay for that new X ray machine?! 

Briggs asked if the first minister thought it was fair that NHS staff will have to pay an extra 114 per cent to park their cars. I reckon I can answer that one for you, Briggsy.

Sturgeon agreed with Briggs, stating that she didn’t think it would be fair, adding that she was the one who abolished hospital parking charges while health minister, because would it be politics without a cheeky plug of your own accomplishments? 

According to Sturgeon, it was not possible to do so at the Edinburgh site because of the PFI contract that was in place, because - without a hint of irony -  the "cost would be out of proportion". 

Christine Grahame and an ageing population

Lothian South MSP Christine Grahame was next to enter the Thunderdome. As she stood, Grahame - who is 72 years young - said that she was unaware as to whether she should declare an interest or not, as she asked what planning was being done to accommodate an ageing population.

Sturgeon’s response started: "I think Christine Grahame should almost certainly declare an interest." The first minister looked down at her lectern as the intake of breath and sniggers of laughter echoed throughout the chamber.

"An attempt at lightening the mood in the chamber," she said, which had the effect of not lightening the mood in the chamber.

Onto real business, enough of this tomfoolery. 

Sturgeon said that dealing with an ageing population is one of Scotland’s biggest challenges, but also one of its biggest assets. According to Sturgeon, the needs of older people have been embedded into the government’s planning. She wants to ensure that Scots enjoy a "thriving third age", whatever that is.

As she stood, Grahame - who is 72 years young - said that she was unaware as to whether she should declare an interest or not, as she asked what planning was being done to accommodate an ageing population.

Again Christine Grahame rose, thanking the first minister, in part, for her reply, because they have a great rapport with even greater banter. 

Due to projected increases in the number of older people and the subsequent effect that will have on public services, Grahame asked if the first minister might appoint a minister for older people, stressing: "This is not a job application!"

"But if asked," the first minister said as she rose from her seat, in what - on reflection - was a joke. No one else in the chamber got it either. It was awkward, that kind of awkward that you can feel in your bones. 

"Ehhh ... Anyway," she segued, "I will make considerations."

Sturgeon then stated that there is a correlation between this issue and that of immigration - no, I wasn’t sure how either, but she explained it pretty well, stating that there is an "economic necessity" for Scotland to grow our population.

Drawing up a fall strategy

Next up was Alex Cole-Hamilton of Edinburgh Western. Yes, Alexander Hamilton. I was disappointed too when I realised that it wasn’t a Hispanic man rapping, but let’s just get over it, he seems lovely.

Hamilton told the chamber of how he chaired a forum of older people, and they told him that their biggest fear was of falling. Hamilton recently proposed a national fall strategy and asked the first minister what plans were being put in place.

Sturgeon, having thankfully given up making jokes in time to talk about old people falling, stated that she will have the health secretary write to Hamilton to go over the plan in detail. Or not, apparently Shona Robison is a loose cannon, she does what she wants, when she wants.

Child mental health referral concerns

Last but not least for this sitting was Mr Graham Simpson, Tory MSP for Central Scotland and the biggest juxtaposition between tie and personality the world has ever seen. 

Simpson brought to the chamber's attention that in 2015, one in five referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were rejected, and asked for the response of the government.

Sturgeon began by saying that each child was evaluated on an individual basis, and that if a doctor did not believe that CAMHS was the best response for the child, then the child would be referred on to another service. 

Sturgeon did, however, tell the chamber that the 10-year mental health plan was due to be released next week, revealing to the chamber that it will include an audit of rejected referrals, which will ensure that children are being correctly referred.

Simpson brought to the chamber's attention that in 2015, one in five referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were rejected, and asked for the response of the government.

Simpson was again called upon to ask another question. Sticking with the theme of mental health, Simpson stated there are five NHS boards that report a waiting time over the 18-week target, and that it has been recommended that the target is lowered to 12 weeks. Simpson asked if he believed this to be achievable.

Sturgeon said that she agrees with the statements made by Simpson, and that identifying mental health problems in young people stops the situation worsening in later life. There is progress being made towards the 18-week target, she said.

The first minister also believes that there are more people coming forward with mental health issues and that the stigma is fading. She then stated that it is counterproductive to ask people to come forward to seek help, when they can’t access that help for some time, which is something that she said will be outlined in the 10-year plan next week.

And so that concludes First Minister's Questions. I hope to see you all next week.

Pictures courtesy of the Scottish Parliament

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