Craig Paton Does FMQs: Ruth Davidson and Bill Gates; Kezia Dugdale and her turkeys; Willie Rennie and the EU

Columnist Craig Paton offers his weekly sketch of First Minister's Questions

AFTER a nice two-week layoff for Easter, MSPs have arrived back in Holyrood with their eggs fully rolled and their batteries recharged.

They return to the chamber with one thought nagging quietly in the back of their head. That is, of course, the choice of Christine Grahame to wear a mustard coloured blazer with a black feather pinned to it. A bold choice, certainly, but one that I believe she pulled off with aplomb.

Ruth ‘namedropper’ Davidson and her big pal Bill Gates

Taking to the floor in her usual position, Ruth Davidson regaled the chamber with the tale of her meeting with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, not to talk about how horrific Windows Vista was or why Internet Explorer keeps freezing, but the tough issue of international aid. 

She spoke of how Gates had told her that UK aid efforts had helped so many in the most remote and impoverished places in the world. Using her best Darcy Bussell impersonation she spun the question around, stating that she knew the message of the SNP during the Westminster election campaign would be that living under a Tory government is "hell on earth". 

She then asked Sturgeon if - given the conditions in other parts of the world – she really believed that was a fair description of life in the UK.

Sturgeon rose to answer, first settling the small matter of her support for the pledge of 0.7 per cent of GDP being spent on foreign aid, before going on the offensive. 

She also brought up Gates, saying that she heard his concern that the Tory manifesto will drop the 0.7 per cent commitment. As seems to happen in a lot of these sessions, Sturgeon then replied with a question. "Will she assure the chamber today that it will be in the Tory manifesto?"

Sturgeon continued into the murky waters of the looming election. She affirmed what she thought was the main question in this election - who will stand up for Scotland against the Tories? She went on to implore people to think about what the Tories had done with a small majority, citing the rape clause and the Bedroom Tax as examples, and wondering aloud what they would do with a bigger one, proclaiming that strong opposition in Scotland can only be found in the SNP.

As she has done for weeks, she asked Davidson to condemn the rape clause legislation. The Scottish Tory leader's reply was simple: "If the first minister doesn’t like the two child tax policy, she can change it."

Sturgeon, to thunderous applause, then finally brought up the elephant in the chamber. The rape clause. As she has done for weeks, she asked Davidson to condemn the legislation. The Scottish Tory leader's reply was simple: "If the first minister doesn’t like the two child tax policy, she can change it."

"Shame on Ruth Davidson. And shame on the Conservatives," replied Sturgeon, before again wondering what the Tories could do with a bigger majority. She continued, saying that voters will not find a strong opposition in the "unelectable" Labour party or in the Lib Dems, who she said "would still support a Tory government". 

In the final branch of the seemingly never ending exchange, Davidson accused the first minister of wanting to put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street, asking whether she believed him to be best for the job, or because he said he was "fine with another referendum".

Sturgeon put on her comedic hat in her response, saying: "Jeremy Corbyn ain’t going anywhere near Number 10."

Kezia Dugdale and her turkeys

Kezia Dugdale then assumed her podium, surely to calm tempers and bring the combative tone down. Or maybe not.

Dugdale asked why the SNP’s Westminster cohort abstained in the vote for the General Election, instead of "voting with Labour to get rid of the Tory government".

Sturgeon again donned her funny hat, she must have been in one of her mischievous moods, likening the Labour vote in Westminster to turkeys voting for Christmas. She continued on, saying that the thought of Labour replacing the Tories was "pie in the sky". Oh Nicola, you are a card.

"We voted yesterday to get rid of this miserable Tory government," Dugdale replied, accusing the SNP of wanting the Tories to remain in power to strengthen their case for independence.

Willie Rennie, Scooby Doo and the European Union

Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and the nicest person in politics - an award I give out annually and only ever to Willie Rennie – wondered about the SNP’s position on the EU, stating that Angus Robertson could not say on the radio what it was, even going as far as to ask listeners for their suggestions. 

Sturgeon described the SNP policy as "absolutely clear", much to the faux amused guffaws of all in the chamber, saying that she wants Scotland to remain part of the EU. She went on to say that the real question was where the Lib Dems fell on the issue, or indeed any other issue.

Rennie asked why, if the policy was so clear, Sturgeon was not saying that it would be in the SNP's manifesto, before adding that the Lib Dem position was crystal clear, again to the sarcastic wailing of the chamber. 

It appears that MSPs have a bit of a tic when anyone mentions clarity. Rennie continued, attempting a Scooby Doo impression when he said "we know what she and her government are up to", before stating that the SNP was being soft on Europe to bring Brexit voters to its side. 

Sturgeon set out to explain the SNP's position in simpler terms, but she really just said it slower and louder this time, like a UK expat in a Majorca butcher shop asking for sausages. 

Sturgeon set out to explain the SNP's position in simpler terms, but she really just said it slower and louder this time, like a UK expat in a Majorca butcher shop asking for sausages. 

She went on to bring up Tim Farron’s apparent dodging of the question of Lib Dem support for a Tory government in Westminster. "Labour is unelectable, the Lib Dems propped the Tories up for five years and won’t rule out doing it again," she said, before again saying that the only choice for strong opposition was the SNP.

And with that the leaders' portion of FMQs was over, notwithstanding the absence of Patrick Harvie who was off building a wind farm with nothing but his bare hands and his cutting wit. 

Other questions were asked, by the most Tory of all the Tories, Jackson Carlaw, Mr Labour 2016 Daniel Johnson, and the Conservative answer to a jaded geography teacher, the hilariously named Edward Mountain. 

For the sake of time, these questions unfortunately ended up on this week's cutting room floor, but you media savvy youngsters can find them all on YouTube.

Pictures courtesy of the Scottish Parliament

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