The Scottish Parliament is only just back from the summer hols and my tolerance of unionist ‘whataboutery‘ is non-existent.
The first First Minister’s question time of the season, and the opposition (there is no formal opposition in the Scottish Parliament. It's not like Westminster, so if you are not in charge, you are part of the opposition) parties are woefully unprepared for the business at hand.
The opposition unionists went straight in with pre-prepared soundbite attacks specifically designed to catch the ear of BBC News Editor Sarah Smith. Sound bites destined for inclusion in the “news where you are” at lunchtime and teatime.
Ruth Davidson wanted to know why Scotland wanted to incorporate the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland implying that they should be left alone to be a Great British Transport Police.
This was an inexplicable question because during the Smith Commission and throughout the Scotland Bill discussions, it was agreed that the responsibility for Police was devolved to Scotland and that the Transport Police would be incorporated into Police Scotland.
Nicola said this would have to be legislated for and that Ruth could bring up any of her concerns during the relevant debates.
Ms Davidson pressed on telling the Parliament that 300 police officers from the British Transport Police had written to her and that the British Federation of Transport Police had said that they were not being consulted:
"this could leave the whole network unguarded"
Nicola easily defused Ruth with quotes from the Federation of British Transport Police saying they were:
"working constructively with the Scottish Government".
Kezia asked about mental health provision for young people and told the Parliament that 900 young people had called the Childline charity with thoughts of suicide - hoping that the Parliament would see a causal connection.
She asked about referral times and when pushed on the question of how many young people had waited 52 weeks for a referral, Nicola replied: "One".
Nicola said there was much to do in this area of health and that the Scottish Government were the only part of the UK to set targets for mental health treatment.
The two main opposition party bosses could nary land a blow on Nicola.
BBC Scotland coverage provided a post-match discussion from Brian Taylor with his hand-picked unionist journalist pundits. And it was all very chummy and complimentary of Ruth and Kezia. They relish the scraps of today's skirmishes like hungry dogs.
The business of running Scotland is a serious thing. The business of the BBC seems to be #SNPBad and salivating at which unionist opposition MSP got the better of Nicola - not the running of Scotland.
You can avoid the BBC version of events by watching First Minister's Questions on Scotland's dedicated Scottish Parliament Channel where you'll get no commentary, just coverage.
Here's the link to Parly TV:
The question time runs for 45 minutes and the Presiding Officer, our version of the Speaker, has made sure the back-benchers get airtime and to that end managed to fit in lots of topical questions:
- Oliver Mundell gained assurances that everything was being done to help Penman Engineering.
- Sandra Whyte gained a promise that the Scottish Government will do everything to help the Clutha families.
- Patrick Harvie got confirmation that the Scottish Government will not give grant funding or taxpayer guarantee schemes to the tax dodgers that are setting up shell companies in Scotland.
The big 'stooshie' of the day came from the SNP and went unreported by the BBC.
James Dornan called for an apology for the disgraceful treatment of Christian Allard at the hands of the Tories – and the First Minister spotlighted Ruth Davidson and said she expected an apology. This is not going to go away.
Murdo Fraser got to his feet to lie about a fictional £6000 union dividend and dodgy GERS figures and got booed like a pantomime villian when he said "why do you want to take that away from people?"
- Liam McArthur asked for decommissioning work to go to his patch.
- Jenny Gilruth got an update on the International Council of Educational Advisors and Liz Smith said she wanted more autonomy for schools.
Sticking with education, Iain Gray asked about standard assessments. Nicola wondered why he was asking as Labour MSPs had already agreed to standardised assessments. Doh! Have a drink of water Iain!
Gordon Lindhurst asked what the FM was going to do about a reported decline in inward investment (A single report). Nicola said 2015 was a record year for inward investment and that there were plenty of other assessments that said Scotland was viewed as a great place to do business.
Lindhurst then blamed a:
"threat of a dark cloud of a further independence referendum"
(and got heckled).
"The people of Scotland have spoken in plain English. No means no. When is she going to accept that" he persisted checking his soundbite had been delivered as planned, he looked up at the gallery for approval.
Nicola pointed out the only threat was uncertainty over Brexit and that the Tories were now like:
“An arsonist trying to blame the Fire Brigade”!
Jackie Baillie rose to her feet to join Gordon Lindhurst in Better Together camaraderie blaming both a threat of Independence and Brexit for a reported drop in inward investment.
Nicola remarked that she remembered Jackie had toured the country with the Tories telling people we'd be kicked out of the EU if we voted Yes and that, given the mess Labour had got themselves into, she would just leave her to "stew in her own juices".
Liz Smith asked about train services and asked for a special commission into train safety. She had a delegation of RMT union peeps in the gallery with an important message about driver only trains.
The first FMQs managed to hear a lot of topical questions from back-benchers. Kudos to the Presiding Officer for tweaking the format.