Craig Paton Does FMQs: Kez sneaks in a double header and Patrick Harvie goes out of control


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

FIRST MINISTER’S QUESTIONS this week had different tone. Partisan barriers were set aside, there was no hooping and hollering, no screaming and shouting.

Unfortunately, it was in reaction to a tragedy; the Manchester bombing. Each member was deliberate in their respect for the lost and for the wounded, given that election campaigning had been suspended. 

It was not time to play politics, and each member who spoke was aware of that. The tragedy was made all too real when the announcement was made, only hours before this week’s session, that 14-year-old Eilidh MacLeod of Barra had died in the explosion, and her 15-year-old friend Laura MacIntyre was in critical condition. 

Not the time to campaign, says Ruth

The first minister started the session by answering Ruth Davidson’s formal question and paying tribute to the victims of the attack on Manchester, in particular the girls from Barra. “I associate myself with the words of the first minister,” said Davidson, when she rose to ask her real question. 

Davidson went on to say that it “would not be right to use today to indulge in the knockabout of an election campaign”. Instead, she said that the best way to show contempt for the attackers attempts to destroy our democratic values would be to continue on with the business of parliament.

With this week focusing so heavily on the wellbeing of young people, Davidson wanted to use her question to ask what the government was doing about the mental health of young people, a question which had been recommended by members of the Scottish Youth Parliament. 

Firstly, Sturgeon thanked Davidson for her question, which was fitting with the vibe of this week’s session – if this were any other week there would have been a verbal volley of verbosity from the first minister.

Instead of an attack-laden speech where the question remained mysteriously unanswered, Sturgeon was to the point. She said that the mental health of young people, as well as meeting the demand with high quality services, was at the forefront of the recently published mental health strategy. She then stated that a full review would be done of PSE teaching and pastoral care in schools. 

The Tory leader then pointed to a campaign launched this week by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which – among other things – pointed out that 7,000 young people had been turned away from mental health services, warning that their condition may worsen. Davidson then asked if the first minister shared the concerns of SAMH, and if they would be taken seriously.

Sturgeon again agreed with Davidson, which almost certainly means that we are in the twilight zone, also stating that SAMH is a key partner of the government on mental health. The first minister then pointed out that there is a full review of the children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) process imminent.

Both the first minister and the Tory leader then went on to praise groups such as the Boys Brigade, the Girl Guides and the Brownies for the work that they do in maintaining and supporting the mental health of children.

Kez sneaks in a double header

This week Kezia Dugdale appeared to say “to hell with the rules” as she asked a question followed by a different question of the first minister. I can only imagine that this was allowed to happen because her imposing stature scares so many in the halls of Holyrood. 

First, the Scottish Labour leader conveyed her condolences to those affected by Monday’s attack, as did all of the leaders this week, in particular the community of Barra. She first asked what support the government was offering to the island.

The first minister, after agreeing wholeheartedly with the sentiments that Dugdale conveyed, stated that the director of education – a qualified educational psychologist – was on Barra, and that another educational psychologist and a further clinical psychologist were inbound, to support the families and friends of the girls. Sturgeon then stressed that the main aim was to keep this running as usual on the island. 

Yes, it actually happened. Something was actually achieved in FMQs. Hallelujah!

This is when Dugdale pivoted, and asked about ovarian cancer. The charity Target Ovarian Cancer this week released a report which showed that 36 per cent of GPs believe that there are not detectable signs of the disease. Which is baffling. Because they’re doctors.

When asked what she will do to improve the expertise of GPs – instead of sending them back to medical school – the first minister gave a commitment to review the process of guidance to doctors and clinicians. Yes, it actually happened. Something was actually achieved in FMQs. Hallelujah!

Kez then stated that Ovarian cancer was not included in the Detect Cancer Early programme, only lung, breast and bowel. She asked the first minister if ovarian cancer would be included in the programme, given the report’s findings. 

Sturgeon answered by saying that the programme is kept under review, with groups representing patients with different types of cancer often attempting to make a case for inclusion into the programme, which she welcomed Target Ovarian Cancer to do.

Patrick Harvie goes out of control

Taking a leaf out of Dugdale’s book, Patrick Harvie tried to sneak through a second question as well, and to his credit, he pulled it off, without the need to resort to Kez’s threats of violence.

Following the expression of condolences from the Green leader, he asked if the first minister was aware of the 34 people who died, some of whom were children, trying to cross from Libya to Italy on Wednesday, as well as seeking a commitment that the Government will continue to grant asylum, as well as asking if it was time to pressure the UK Government to reconsider scrapping the Dubs
Amendment. That’s three questions, in one question. Dear god, the man is out of control. 

The first minister said that we could all work to resolve the conflicts that the Manchester attacker used as an excuse, and that we should halt the injustices faced by people who are fleeing their homes by offering a “hand of friendship” to them. She also stated her belief that the UK should honour the Dubs Amendment.

Harvie moved on to the decision by the UK Government to suspend the sharing of intelligence with the United States, given that classified information had found its way into the media.

That’s three questions, in one question. Dear god, the man is out of control. 

He asked if the first minister agreed with this decision, if she was astonished and angered in the way that UK officials reportedly are and what the implications will be for Scotland if we can no longer trust the US intelligence community. 

That’s another three, for a total of six. This man has to be stopped. 

Sturgeon replied that she was also angered by the leaks, and that the act cannot be defended. She acknowledged that the decision was likely taken with regret, and hoped that it was only for a short period. She went on to describe the actions as “completely unacceptable” and said they could compromise the ongoing investigation. 

Willie Rennie did not ask a question this week, so we’ll leave it there. I know I say this every week, but please do watch this one, there’s some good questions from Anas Sarwar, Tavish Scott and Linda Fabiani.

This week as a whole was incredibly respectful, productive and reaffirming that the political process does sometimes work, and it’s not always about screaming at each other.

Picture courtesy of the Scottish Parliament

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