I feel that I could have done much more to ensure that members of the public who were caught up in a difficult and frightening set of circumstances were better informed of the situation.I don't really get the rush to resign, to be honest. Ministers have taken a great deal more grief and stayed in office. I agreed and still do with Kenny MacAskill's decision to release Megrahi, but he was under sustained pressure for a long time. Nicola Sturgeon got into hot water with a letter she wrote for a constituent on benefit fraud. Again, I felt more of a fuss than necessary was made of that, but while she came close to losing her job, she survived after making a reasoned and respectful statement to Parliament. It took ages for Salmond to replace Fiona Hyslop as Education Minister. Broken promises have come under the spotlight a lot in the last week - so maybe we need to look at the SNP's pretty dismal record on education and the promises they haven't kept on class sizes and teacher numbers. However, just one muck up and Stevenson heads off into the political goodnight like a little lamb.
I am not entirely convinced that anyone (well, except Ross Finnie) could have dealt any better with the horrendous conditions we've had over the past few weeks. Certainly Stevenson mucked up last Sunday. If I could tell from the BBC Weather website that it was going to snow heavily for 6 hours at 8am last Monday morning, then someone in his Department must have known more and could have warned people not to leave home. Having said that, after a week of chaos, employers would have been foaming at the mouth if their workers had said they weren't even going to try to get to work because of a weather warning. In fact, I know of people who called into work regularly during fruitless and frightening 5 hour bus journeys in whiteout conditions who were given extremely short shrift from their bosses. Apparently because it was snowing lightly in the centre of Edinburgh, then it must be the same elsewhere.
It has certainly been a bit weird over the last couple of weeks to see Alistair Carmichael and Tavish Scott commute quite successfully from the northern isles while West Lothian has been pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. People who relied on public transport to get to work have been in dire straits for the last fortnight. Trains weren't running from 1st December until this weekend and the replacement bus service was a joke. One single deck coach to replace an entire train? Ridiculous. Apart from that the bus service to Edinburgh was withdrawn for much of that time and the roads were a nightmare. I was not therefore terribly chuffed to hear Stewart Stevenson talk about Network Rail in much more friendly terms than he should have in response to a question from local MSP Angela Constance:
We will ask Network Rail to examine that issue further. The organisation has done well, but it, too, feels that it will have lessons to learn.In what universe is failing to run a service for the better part of a fortnight doing well? While their profits are doubling, could it be that they're cutting corners? I mean, much colder countries seem to have functioning rail networks which aren't brought to a crashing halt when the temperature slides into minus figures.
So, not a good performance from Stevenson, but resignation material?
The letters exchanged between Stevenson and Salmond were peculiar to say the least:
I am also conscious there has been a lot of party politics in the last few days and that my continued presence in government would be used politically by our opponents.
I have not devoted my adult life to winning Scottish independence and to working for and serving in this first SNP government to allow that to happen.
Nothing that the other parties have done during this Parliament comes close to matching how much a pain in the backside the SNP were in opposition, when they just dug their heels in and said no for the sake of it, and made loads of noise in the process. For them to accuse others of playing party politics is the stuff of the pot and the kettle. As Salmond's bullish response illustrates:
There were indeed problems with communication with those suffering extreme difficulty, but just as no man can tether time nor tide, sometimes the elements are beyond anyone's control.
It is reprehensible that while you have been concentrating on addressing the practical issues facing our people, some of our opponents have been engaged in no more than parliamentary game playing.
So, if it's just game playing by a febrile opposition five months from an election, why allow your minister to be sacrificed unless there's something we don't know?
But anyway, the reshuffle was required and Keith Brown becomes transport minister while Angela Constance, my MSP, becomes Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning. Andrew thinks these appointments are political, designed to promote MSPs in marginal seats ahead of the election, but I disagree.
Angela is one of the brightest people in the Parliament, let alone the SNP. She's also one of the most decent people in politics with her heart firmly in the right place. She should have been given a ministerial role a long time ago. Given the SNP's shameful record on further education, for example cutting back college places during the recession, and doing nothing to deal with the runaround Siemens were given on the wind technicians' course at Carnegie College in Dunfermline, she's got her work cut out for her. Unfortunately for her, she's just not being given enough time to make an impact and change things and she's going to have less time for campaigning in the constituency. It's going to present her with quite a challenge. It'll also be interesting to see how the former student activist will cope with her boss Mike Russell's mixed messages on higher education. He's telling a Parliamentary Committee that there may have to be consideration of a graduate contribution of sorts and then telling the NUS that there won't be any fees. Whatever you call it, it's still money out of graduates' pockets. We'll see more when the Green Paper is published this week, but ducking the issue until after the election isn't going to wash.