To my shame, I have to confess that today was the first time I've ever watched Scotland Questions all the way through in this Parliament. I have usually been way too disorganised to find out when it was on and just caught the end when switching on for Prime Minister's Questions.
In the last Parliament, I got heartily fed up of listening to then Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy spouting pure poison, using the word patriot as if it were a political weapon and putting the emphasis on bashing anyone who dared disagree with him rather than actually answering questions in a constructive way.
Mike, on the other hand, goes to the other extreme, being ministerial and statesmanlike and not lowering himself to brash politics, apart from a couple of half digs about the deficit. He put in a competent performance asking the questions, but let both the SNP and Labour away with way too much. I'm thinking particularly on the issue of fuel duty. This Government has done more in 8 months on that issue than the last one did in 13 years, so Mike should take no nonsense on it from Labour. And as far as the SNP is concerned, they dragged their heels and procrastinated, doing precious little to help George Lyon MEP build a case for derogation, as I wrote last year. If we don't pull them up every time they criticise, they will, by shouting loud enough, create the impression that they're the only ones who care about the issue when in fact, actions (or lack of them) speak much louder than words.
Bill Clinton needed a robust rapid rebuttal operation in 1992 to nip in the bud all sorts of nonsense that the Republicans were spreading about him. We need to do the same for the whole of the next 4 and a bit years, but especially in the run up to the Holyrood elections in May.
Other highlights of the session included questions from Mike Crockart (who resigned as Mike's PPS over tuition fees) and Mark Lazarowicz on whether the Green Investment Bank could be established in Edinburgh, a question on whether Prestwick Airport could be re-named Robert Burns Airport (sadly, not the Government's choice, but not a bad idea, to be honest) and Bob Smith securing a meeting with Mike over delays in high speed broadband in the north east.
There were plenty questions on the visit of the Chinese Deputy Prime Minister and the trade agreements which were made. I've written before that, however cute their pandas are, I feel quite uneasy about the amount of trade we're doing with them without challenging them on human rights. It as particularly galling today it took an English Tory to raise that as an issue. I was annoyed that there were comparatively few Liberal Democrats present. Jo Swinson I know had a school visit, but a few of them were missing.
It was, however, satisfying that those who were there did actually ask proper, testing questions, with no obsequious plants. Alan Reid added to the fuel duty angst, quite rightly, and Charles Kennedy pushed Mike quite hard on the effects on Scottish universities of the tuition system.
One final point, it was good that Mike kicked off proceedings with a tribute to former MSP and MP Phil Gallie who, one Labour MP said was more working class than most Labour MPs today. I didn't know him, but I've heard reports that he may have had some strange ideas, but he was essentially a good guy. It was a nice touch of Mike to pay such a warm tribute to him.