Yesterday I read an article on the Telegraph’s website regarding Thursday’s session of First Minister’s Questions. I ignored most, if not all, of the comments on the article as quite frankly they were either party political or simply wrong. The article itself did raise a valid and very important point and that is the role that the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding officer should play during First Minister’s Questions.
I did sit down and watch the first round of questions to the First Minister since Parliament re-convened following the election last month. I wish I hadn’t. There were many things wrong with the session, and personally I cannot stand Alex Salmond (not because of his political affiliations). There is no denying that Salmond is a heavyweight in Scottish Politics, he has managed to deliver what was thought to be impossible under the system used to elect politicians to the Scottish Parliament and has turned the fortunes of his party around.
Sadly, most of the thirty minute session on Thursday was taken up by Alex Salmond’s answers to the questions he was posed by the opposition leaders – if they can even be considered as answers most of the time. Where was Tricia Marwick MSP in all of this? As the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament it is her job to rein in all MSPs when they are in the chamber to ensure that things progress the way they should. Upon being elected to the chair Mrs Marwick promised more time for backbenchers, but she spectacularly failed on Thursday. I have re-watched the session as it was broadcast on BBC2 Scotland. In what was broadcast on BBC2 the First Minister spoke for almost 70% of the time and there was a grand total of two questions from MSPs who were not party leaders. Tricia Marwick clearly has to rein in not only Alex Salmond in his answers, but also the other party leaders if she is to fulfil her aim of providing more time for backbenchers. There were two clear culprits: Iain Gray and the First Minister.
One can forgive Tricia Marwick’s performance on Thursday; I certainly would not like that task of refereeing First Minister’s Questions on a Thursday afternoon. She is new into the post and I am sure that it will take some getting used to. However, particularly when it comes to Alex Salmond, if her performance does not improve drastically over the coming weeks serious questions will need to be asked as to her independence. She was of course elected as an SNP MSP and had to resign her membership of the Scottish National Party. She is not accountable to Alex Salmond any longer, he is her former boss, and he now is accountable to her. Speaking for almost 70% of the time allotted to First Minister’s Questions is not what the First Minister should be doing. His job should be to answer the questions posed in as little time as possible rather than making min-speeches and wasting time playing party politics and taking cheap pot shots at other members of the chamber.
I look forward to seeing Tricia Marwick’s promised shake-up of First Minister’s questions. It really is needed.