Today’s First Ministers Questions saw Iain Gray pursue the same topic as he had done last week – namely the proposals from health boards to be allowed to reduce their head count, or as Iain Gray puts it ‘NHS Cuts’.
The exchanges between the Labour group leader and the First Minister resulted in the same points being made as had been made already. Gray grasped his ‘comfort blanket’ of a sheet of A4 paper as he rhymed off those boards who wish to lower their head count. Salmond responded with his own blanket of statistics demonstrating what the First Minister described as the “SNP’s commitment to the NHS”.
The Labour leader’s decision to ask pretty much the same questions as he had done last week came across as not so much an encore but more a reheat of a leftover dinner. The SNP health secretary had already given a comprehensive explanation of the NHS changing dynamic and why exactly head counts were changing in response to these altering circumstances.
Last week Gray had yelled ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’. This week he altered the chant slightly by prefixing the word ‘cuts’ with the letters ‘SNP’ and then proceeded to shout that instead, stabbing his finger at Salmond at every word. It only resulted in the First Minister responding in kind by reminding all of the £500 million budgetary cuts inflicted by Labour.
Gray’s rehearsed jokes were also there as he yelled ‘More Nats less Nurses’, a clear reference to the SNP campaign slogan. Then followed a play on the Tory / Lib Dem alliance (Con-Dem) when Gray referred to Salmond as the Con MAN – yep, it was as bad as it reads.
As usual though the First Minister, with the last word, used it to good effect when he referred to an article in The Daily Mail where Labour’s finance spokesman Andy Kerr made comments criticising the SNP’s decision to delay the budget cuts this year.
Salmond berated both Gray and his finance spokesman, pointing out the bizarre situation of a Labour politician calling for the SNP to introduce Tory cuts.
Annabelle Goldie focussed her attentions on minimum pricing and urged the SNP to drop their plans, unlikely given the strength of support for the plans amongst Scotland’s police chiefs and health professionals.
Tavish Scott deployed the ‘work together’ argument arguing that the SNP ought to work constructively with the new UK government. Of course this had nothing to do with the fact that the Lib Dems now form half of that UK government. This is the second week that Tavish has acted as a cheer leader for the new Westminster coalition – could he be after Danny Alexander’s job?
The First Minister employed a stock reply that he will co-operate whenever Scotland’s interests require it.
However the Richard Baker ‘Oops’ award goes to Robert Brown of the Lib Dems who after suggesting that the planned pilot use of Tazer guns may be unlawful without ministerial permission, was reminded that in 2006 the then justice secretary Cathie Jamieson stated “The deployment of tazer guns is an operational matter for chief constables”. Brown's party of course formed part of that coalition as well - is there any party the Lib Dems won't form an alliance with? ... hmmm.
The First Minister also pointed out that Tazer guns were considered to be firearms and as such the legislation covering the use of said devices is reserved to Westminster. He then called for the chamber to join the Scottish government in it's bid to have the powers devolved.
Finally – is it me or does Iain Gray suffer a mild form of the ‘Roy Hatterslies’? He does tend to spit out his words.