Craig Paton Does FMQs: Willie Rennie's tie and the funniest guy in parliament

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

AND, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, your humble sketch writer doth return to regale you with the tales of the mighty warriors of Holyrood, as they scream and shout, and achieve little or no real improvement. 

This week’s FMQs was a tight affair, the first two questions ran so long that Ken Macintosh had to step in to create the Scottish Parliament’s first lightning round where the latter half of the session was spent flying through questions.

It was apparently because of the danger of an overrun, but I suspect Macintosh just really needed a pee. This one’s a little lacking on the funny side, but if you hold out to the end I promise it’ll all be worth it.

Another week, another education scrap

Ruth Davidson stepped up first to have a go about the topic that just keeps on giving for the Tories: education. Davidson started off with the statistic that five pupils in every 30-pupil S2 class cannot write properly, double the number four years ago, before asking if the first minister felt embarrassed, ashamed or both.

"What I feel is utterly determined," Sturgeon said, to a thin layer of muttering, before settling back into how education questions appear to go every FMQs. She mentioned the attainment gap, the attainment challenge and the attainment fund (which, if you didn’t already know, puts more resources in the hands of headteachers). 

In response, Davidson harked back to a meeting of the education and skills committee chaired by mid-level comic book villain lookalike, James Dornan MSP.

The committee had several trainee teachers giving evidence, one of which claimed that only one week was spent on the teaching of literacy, and another said that trainees do not have sufficient skills in numeracy to teach it to 11 year olds. Davidson acknowledged that a lack of training for teachers is not their fault, but asked: "What chance do they have of teaching our children?"

Sturgeon first stated that it’s important not to do a disservice to teachers and pupils, something that Davidson didn’t actually do, prompting a rabid response from the Tory benches. 

She continued on, saying that the content of teacher training courses are up to universities and the General Teaching Council, not the government, adding that a report into teacher training will be published in the coming weeks.

Sturgeon also pointed out that Scottish universities make up four of the top seven education courses in the UK, according to the Complete University Guide. It’s actually five of the top eight, and six of the top 11, but who’s counting? 

Davidson then moved onto education inspections, of which she said there had been too few, due to the amount of inspectors that had been drafted in to repair the "complete mess" of Curriculum for Excellence, prompting Sturgeon to say that she was not only going against her own party, but against the findings of the OECD, which praised the CfE. 

This began an exchange between the Tory leader and the first minister which saw them put their expert quotations to the test, spraying them up the wall and seeing who’s went higher, while the first minister again accused the opposition parties of demanding change before criticising the resulting reform.

Nursing NHS wages back to health

Seemingly not having received my parliamentary memo to keep it light this week, Kezia Dugdale’s question was on the equally contentious area of health.

"Scotland’s nurses need a pay rise," Dugdale said, adding that nurses had seen a £3,400 real terms cut to their wages since 2010 - which leads to millions of pounds spent on agency staff, according to the Scottish Labour leader, who then asked why the SNP voted against the pay cap.

The first minister said that the wage restraint shown by the government was due to the 2008 financial crash and the ensuing austerity imposed by Labour and the Tories - she just had to get that last bit in. 

The first minister said that the wage restraint shown by the government was due to the 2008 financial crash and the ensuing austerity imposed by Labour and the Tories - she just had to get that last bit in. 

She then went on to say that wages must now be looked at with inflation on the rise, before stating that nurses in Scotland are better off than their English or Welsh counterparts, and that the Labour party is in power in Wales. 

The Scottish Labour leader said that Sturgeon still cannot escape the fact that nurses are £3,400 worse off than seven years ago. She then pointed to a report in the Times about a £400m contract for private doctors to work in the NHS being put out to tender earlier this month, and asked why the SNP can find the money for private doctors but not nurses' wages.

Sturgeon then reminded Dugdale that it was her party that signed PFI contracts in the NHS which still drain the budget, and concluded by saying it is unfair of Dugdale to disregard the fact that the SNP has done more than any other UK Government to help public sector workers in a difficult time. 

Willie Rennie and the deceptively cheery tie

And now, ladies and gentleman, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The return of Sir William of Rennie after a week-long hiatus. Due to the absence of Patrick Harvie, who was working hard to create a plane that runs solely on vegetable oil, Rennie’s question was bumped forward. Sporting a cracker of a tartan tie, Rennie’s mood did not match the vibrancy of his attire, as he brought the conversation swiftly back to education. 

Telling the chamber of his correspondence with the mother of a 15-year-old boy who is struggling with reading and writing, Rennie said that she was angry with an SNP administration that has been in power for the entirety of her son’s education, before asking what the first minister had to say to this parent and her son.

Sturgeon said that she was reluctant to repeat the strengths of Scottish education, a comment at which I was taken aback as I thought that the first minister was contractually obliged to mention the word "attainment" at least 400 times per session. 

Sturgeon said that she was reluctant to repeat the strengths of Scottish education, a comment at which I was taken aback as I thought that the first minister was contractually obliged to mention the word "attainment" at least 400 times per session. 

She did, however, make reference to the attainment fund, saying that the headteacher of the school will likely have significant resources to invest in the problem. She concluded by saying that "we have to be prepared to do the difficult things that are required to bring the improvements that we all want to see".

Rennie said in his response that the reforms will be happening in the future, which does not help this specific boy, who he fears may be part of a "lost generation", which is actually the name of Daniel Johnson’s newly minted heavy metal band. 

Rennie went on to detail some of the things that the SNP has done to education in its time in power, such as cutting college places and delaying nursery education for two year olds. 

Sturgeon took issue with the description of a lost generation, calling it "pretty disgraceful", before stating that during the same 10-year period of SNP power, the Lib Dems were in a Westminster coalition, cutting Scotland’s budget.

Her final point was that the attainment fund is in the hands of headteachers right now, and that some headteachers are already planning initiatives with the extra money. She also stated that the publication of comprehensive statistics will allow parents and the chamber itself to hold the SNP accountable.

Is Kenneth Gibson funny?

One of the more perturbing situations in this week’s session occurred when Kenneth Gibson rose to ask an expectedly boring question about whether names on ballot papers should be alphabetised. I yawned four times just typing that topic.

Gibson said that due to the alphabetisation, Glasgow City Council is "populated by a wheen of Aitkens, Balfours, Cullens and Dochertys". The chamber erupted in laughter, with Christine Grahame falling from her seat and Jamie Greene guffawing so hard his beard fell off. 

The first minister rose to answer some seconds later after regaining composure, saying: "That has to count as a classic Kenny Gibson question." Classic Kenny Gibson? Classic? Kenny? 

He has the charisma of a wooden spoon in a bucket of cold cow urine, and parliament is so devoid of humour that what gets a look of derision on the outside world receives laugh-induced aneurysms in Holyrood. 

I found myself thinking, "is this man funny? Have I been missing something these many months?"

He isn’t. He has the charisma of a wooden spoon in a bucket of cold cow urine, and parliament is so devoid of humour that what gets a look of derision on the outside world receives laugh-induced aneurysms in Holyrood. 

That’s all we have for this weeks edition, check out the full session in the video above for more questions from Alison Harris about SEPA’s presence in Grangemouth, Rhoda Grant about the college lecturer strike and a point of order from Murdo Fraser that proves the extent to which he is a tool. 

Picture courtesy of the Scottish Parliament

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