I really feel for Youth Employment minister Angela Constance. While every other politician in Scotland was living it up in luxury at the posh Prestonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh for the Scottish Politician of the Year awards, she was doing the rounds of the tv studios with Hugh Henry, defending the indefensible – Alex Salmond not just getting the figures on FE funding wrong, but in such smug, pugnacious style.
Sending Angela out there is a sign that not all has gone to seed at SNP Towers. There are still brain cells in there capable of having the odd good idea. It is actually impossible to dislike Angela. She combines intelligence with a genuinely pleasant manner. If they’d sent Mike Russell out there, or Kenny MacAskill, there would have been a very unedifying, massive row. Angela just got on with her impossible task.
Now, Hugh Henry by rights should have wiped the floor with her. He didn’t, though. I’ve never met him so I don’t know what he’s like in real life, but his manner came across as an unappealing hybrid of dour and smug, sour, perhaps?
Angela took a bit of a novel line on the Scotland Tonight sofa that she didn’t dare repeat to Gordon Brewer on Newsnight. She said it was comforting that we had a First Minister who was willing to admit when he was wrong and apologise genuinely for it. Oh, Angela. Comforting is a steaming plate of buttery mashed potato, comforting is chicken soup, or a lovely bar of dark chocolate, or a lambswol shawl or a puppy. Comforting is NOT Alex Salmond in that pin striped suit that makes him look especially shifty being pulled up for getting his facts wrong. Again.
At best, it was a score draw, but I think Angela actually had the edge, despite one major blooper. She said that Salmond’s error was in fact tiny considering that the FE budget was £500 billion. Err, no, the entire Scottish budget is £34 billion. She meant million.But I guess it’s only a zero, and that’s nothing, really… I’m surprised Brewer didn’t call her on it
Hugh Henry was doing his damnedest to have a row with Angela, but not getting anywhere because she was not having any of it. He was the one who actually looked defensive as she calmly made her points. I would probably have gone at her with the Kirk Ramsay stuff sooner. I don’t have a heart of stone. I can forgive an error with figures, quickly recognised. I have a much bigger problem with Mike Russell’s ridiculous over-reaction and abuse of power over the Stow College chairman. There’s an argument that he should have made people aware he was recording the proceeedings, but he had a good reason for doing so and he didn’t use the information inappropriately. He did not deserve to be put in a position by the Cabinet Secretary from which he had no option but to resign. Had Angela been the Education Secretary, I cannot imagine that she would have done something so ill-judged over one mistake. I’m sure she would have had the good sense to realise that forcing one of your biggest critics out of office is simply not a good look.
There was quite a lot being said on Twitter last night about how if this was Westminster, there would have been a real crisis. Yes, when Gove got his school numbers wrong, there was a huge stooshie but he kept his job after the story rumbled on for a few days. The thing is, mistakes happen in everyday life and as long as you acknowledge them and put things right quickly, that should be an end of it. He got a figure wrong. Nobody died. Move on.
The bigger problem is the culture of this administration which is becoming increasingly out of touch, arrogant and sleekit. Spending thousands of pounds of our hard earned taxes on covering up that you haven’t got legal advice you created the impression you had does not show any respect for the people who elected you. What people see is not the debates on late night telly only watched by political geeks. They see that there have been a series of events where the SNP has been seen to say one thing and do another, or get things wrong, or behave with arrogance. They might get away with sending the nicest person they can find out to defend them for a little while, but it won’t work indefinitely.
You can watch Newsnight here and Scotland Tonight here. Newsnight is particularly worth watching for its extended coverage of Salmond and Russell’s gloatathon on the way from the Chamber after FMQs to the lift where they said, variously, that Labour were silly and that Johann Lamont had failed in what she had tried to do. Ouch!