Nurses and Policemen probably feature in election literature more than people in any other occupation. That's a bit unfair in a way, but these two groups of people tend to be seen as representative of hard pressed public sector workers. They do enhance the quality of our lives - but then so do the bin men, the road gritters and the people who work in the morgue, the librarians, housing officers and school janitors.
Anyway, it was nurses and policemen who had star billing at FMQs today. There are flaws in the way that the SNP Government deal with the NHS - not least the move to free prescriptions which is effectively a tax cut for the better off and a total waste of money in my opinion - but generally this is not one of their weaker areas. That didn't stop Iain Gray trying to land one on Alex Salmond, though.
The issue he chose was the rather bizarre request by NHS Grampian that nurses should work 14 shifts per month rather than 13 for no extra pay, but they will be compensated by, get this, a 15 minute break in each shift to make up the 7.5 hours extra they are being asked to work. Alex Salmond argued that this was fine because they were being asked to work the same number of hours. He is talking nonsense. Has he not realised that most of these nurses will be women? That many of them will have childcare costs? An extra shift for everyone means extra cost in getting to work, but for nurses with children, they may well incur an extra day's childcare and that doesn't come cheap. Unless they walk to work, these nurses are being asked to effectively take a pay cut in order to ease organisational shift planning. That's on top of a pay freeze. Alex Salmond's indifference to his made me really, really angry.
Tavish Scott raised the issue of policing, asking whether the Government's got its act together and drawn up a blueprint for the future of Scottish policing. What he was trying to get out of Salmond was whether he planned to reduce the number of police forces, perhaps even to one single Scottish force, something that the Liberal Democrats have long been against for very good reason. You can't say that the Policing priorities in Achiltibuie and Aberdeen are going to be anything like the same. It's sometimes difficult to pin down what Salmond actually says amid all the bluster, but he was pretty non committal as to future plans, hinting that there may be a reduction in the number of police forces and that the public really didn't care as long as there were bobbies on the beat.
Annabel Goldie asked about whether the use of methadone should be curtailed in treatment of drug addicts and called for an independent enquiry. Salmond was at his most sensible and asked that the issue of help for drug users should not become a political football and was quite conciliatory, if non specific, about it.
And now for the really annoying bit. Sometimes, if my husband and I are trying to get a particular point over to Anna, we'll have a kind of stage whispered conversation that we know she'll hear and hopefully make the desired modifications in her behaviour. Yes, I know, it would probably be more efficient to just ask her outright, but parents need to have a variety of strings for their bow.
Anyway, that sort of scenario is what came to mind when Ian McKee asked Alex Salmond about Children First's views on supporting children of alcoholic parents. So Daddy Ian and Daddy Alex (no, don't be silly, not our Daddy Alex) had this conversation about how nice it would be if the silly Labour, Labour and Liberal Democrat children would do the right thing and back minimum alcohol pricing. Now, I'm pretty much in favour of accepting the minimum price for alcohol, but proper, earnest, informed discussions are the way to go, not that kind of posturing.
That was the start of a round of questioning on alcohol issues in general for Alcohol Awareness Week culminating in Ross Finnie asking the simple question about how to make the 85% of people who don't know how many units are in your average bottle of wine. I'd have said 9 - 3 in a 250ml glass which I think is quite accurate. It's actually 9.75 for a 13% bottle.
I'd say Tavish and Annabel come out top of the leaders today, then Gray who loses out for following up a good question with one example of a waiting time not being met. I don't think that'll resonate too much. Then there was Salmond at the bottom. His total lack of understanding on nurses' shift patterns has earned him quite a long spell on the naughty step as far as I am concerned.