FMQs Review: Sturgeon wrong-footed after Gillian Martin comments

Kieran Cowan reviews the final First Minister’s Questions before summer recess.


FMQs opened with the stunning development that Gillian Martin had been dropped by the Government from her appointment as Minister for Further and Higher Education. She was to have taken over from Shirley Anne Somerville.

Side-stepping this, Ruth Davidson marked the last FMQs before summer by again discussing justice and the prison service. Nicola Sturgeon avoided political heat by entering into discussions of the technocratic details. Davidson, listing a series of other ‘specific’ examples, attempted to illustrate a wider point about the poor treatment and consideration afforded to victims of crime, whilst really lambasting the principles of rehabilitation.

From a progressive perspective, on this issue I’m sure Labour benches would be supportive of Nicola Sturgeon’s defence of rehabilitation. However, as Richard Leonard focused on health and social care, the removal of Michael Matheson from the Justice brief will be seen as a victory for the Scottish Conservatives, and they are clearly seeking to build their political muscle in shifting government policy as they head into recess.

For Labour, Richard Leonard raised concerns over pay settlements for teachers, moving on to education after the significant scalp of Shona Robison’s resignation as Health Secretary. His question delivered a significantly stinging attack on John Swinney’s education bill being “fast tracked” (read: shelved). With Leonard, Sturgeon was significantly more combative, with the education brief being her self proclaimed ‘top priority’.

Leonard neatly linked this issue with the concerns over the First Minster’s judgement based on selecting Gillian Martin MSP for promotion despite such horrific comments on the very area of policy for which she would have been responsible. On this Sturgeon was more subdued, indicating that this will be discussed after FMQs (perhaps for a smaller viewing audience).  Members wearing ties and badges from the TIE campaign reinforce the First Minister’s problem better than any verbal criticism can.

Labour had the clear edge over the SNP this week (the metric: subdued SNP benches as Labour attacks on policy), with Sturgeon rattled and combative in her response, accusing Labour of wishing to play politics with education, as she has claimed in previous weeks as they raise questions on leadership and policy over health and social care.

Patrick Harvie joined in more positive tones, praising the government for listening to concerns about the education bill. He went on to suggest changes in terms of resourcing, rather than structure, with a less aggressive line of questioning. Sturgeon argued for the continued direction of SNP policy in terms of education. He concludes his slot by marking the TIE campaign’s anniversary and asking for the fourth anniversary of the campaign to deliver a truly LGBTI-inclusive education system.

Willie Rennie went on a whirlwind tour of all the key issues of the term, hitting the First Minister with reports of cancer waiting times being the worst in years, largely unheard yesterday as it was buried by news of a cabinet secretary. In his second question, he linked this to the issues surrounding education, largely echoing concerns of Labour and Green members, before suggesting all these issues indicate that a second independence referendum is an outright silly idea. Nicola Sturgeon aggressively attacked Rennie for hyperbole and inconsistency. True or not, these matters won’t disappear over the summer recess.

Overall, this week Sturgeon has been on the back foot after the coverage of Gillian Martin’s comments, and the opposition parties have been buoyed by both Swinney’s withdrawal of the education bill and yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle. Issues over education and health were the dominant matters in this session, and will only continue to weigh on the Scottish Government after summer

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16 thoughts on “FMQs Review: Sturgeon wrong-footed after Gillian Martin comments

  1. Who is Gillian Martin and what is she supposed to have said? I am completely unaware of it. Which suggests it might only be a stooshie in the minds of those who want it to be, while being outside the consciousness of the vast majority.

  2. Matheson going a Conservative win? I think not they now have to deal with Humza Yousuf who was a disaster at Transport, but never conceded that anything he ever did was wrong. He will be the same at Justice, Also having seen of the disastrous Robison, Richard was the only one to raise the Martin scandal. He can claim credit for that scalp too!

  3. “Claiming scalps”????? No one got any scalps. There was just a reshuffle to bring in new blood. Opposition claims over the reshuffle would be laughable if they weren’t so petty and pathetic.

  4. I am staying away from the Gillian Martin story .
    Its a first class paper sting. She wrote it in 2007 .
    Was teaching and not in politics .I to had never heard of her until this morning .
    On the reshuffle the size of the cabinet is incredible .
    The education bill is dumped on the day of a reshuffle . A good day to get bad news out .
    As Nicola used to complain about when in opposition .
    So if the education bill was dumped on reshuffle day why not the education secretary with it.
    Then Nicolas new deputy Keith Brown briefed the Sunday press including the Sunday Post no less that he could carry out his duties perfectly well in cabinet .
    Nicola must have read the papers because on Tuesday she told him no you cant and he was out of the cabinet .
    There has been a deafening silence from MR Brown on that .
    All the political correspondents are interpreting that as a sacking.
    Shona best of luck to her I think all parties knew she has had a hard time .
    NHS I think we should take it out of politics to a large extent how about a commission made up of all parties NHS professionals unions patients reps chaired by a non Politian to carry out a root and branch review nothing off the table.
    Find out whats going wrong and why whats it doing correctly and why Funding record amounts of cash are being spend could it be better spend recruitment etc .
    Those are my ideas only

    1. Keith Brown is now the most powerful politician in the SNP bar Sturgeon. His sole priority now is preparing the party for the next indyref. A crucial role and one I hope he will perform well. Of course the unionist media portray it as a sacking. Its what they do. Why tell the truth about the SNP when there is the possibility for a damning lie?

      1. Thanks for your comment Bungo
        The problem is Keith Brown briefed the Sunday press that he could do his job in the cabinet .
        It was Brian Taylor BBC and Colin Mackay STV who said in effect it was a sacking.
        And Shona Craven I think it was who used her piece in the National to question the continued presence of John Swinney as education secretary
        After they chose reshuffle day to dump the education bill.
        Although I do now think the FM will now have to do something about Indy 2 timing Maybe get Murray Foote .Jim Sillars Alec Salmond and others to stop using the letters pages of the National to argue the pros and cons of the vow and how the 14 ref was won and lost.
        I have emailed the National letters page myself on allowing emails web site articles to be printed with comments like English settlers with votes here .
        Yoons Unionist press .Brit Nats Colonial Squatters in our Scottish Parliament English occupying power .
        Not printed of course and I am not blaming the SNP or their members and supporters .
        They are decent people with a belief in indy.
        The Trump visit I don’t think he is coming here to negotiate .
        I think its to tell us as he said himself America First is not the piggy bank to be raided anymore its do as your told including pay for your own defence .
        Or else as he told the Germans .
        The Detention Centres on the USA Mexico border are completely unacceptable to me.
        As are the Centres to be set up in Europe
        This will raise all the immigration fears we had in the EU Referendum .
        Over 100 people drowned ships being turned away from ports .
        Maybe I missed it but I don’t hear our politicians complaining.
        And we need people to come to the UK and Scotland independent or not.
        And Scotland is not immune how many times have you heard look at them Polish guys over here doing our jobs .Usually at roadworks .
        And if you say anything as I have done 3 times to the person saying it
        They turned on me


  5. “Kieran”, I see you must have been taking lessons on how to twist an article from Jim O’Neill.
    Here’s a simple point for you to consider ! ,take a check of the latest poll figures for the political parties in Scotland, and believe it or not it shows Labour firmly in third place behind the f-ing tories.

    Now try using that as a base-point for your next article, and explain your way out of that.

  6. My first of 3 comments
    I am on oxygen 15hrs a day full scale oxygen mask and cepac at night .
    Last Thursday morning I noticed the cepac power unit was warm to the touch .Crosshouse hospital respiratory told me due to the fire risk don’t use the power unit until I get a new one .
    I was told my oxygen levels were that good I could use the day time ecuipment at night But only until Monday .
    I would like to place my thanks on record to Crosshouse Hospital Respiratory Gartnavel Respiratory The Sleepcentre Queen Elizabeth Hospital Administration staff and the Post Office for the way they all went the extra mile for me checking up on me and making sure I got my power unit today .
    I have been in touch will all of them to thank them

  7. This is the story of the gravy train that starts at Westminster .
    Where the top 20 MPS on 2nd or outside jobs are all Tories who cant manage on an MPS salary of 77thousand
    Nadhim Zahawi Tory MP for Stratford on Avon is top of the list on the equivalent of an annual salary of 765thousand .
    The Independent committee on standards in public life is due to publish its report on second jobs this week No cap on MPS earnings is expected nor being told no second jobs just greater scrutiny .
    Wait for it the committee chair has made the momentous announcement that the fundamental job of an MP is to actually be an MP
    Our Gravy Train could not pick up The Countess of Wessex because our Sophie used a helicopter to make 3 short flights in one day covering 87 miles in total she used the Queens Sikorsky s76c to attend a theatre performance and a charity performance after it Sophie flew 14 miles to Ingatestone cost to the taxpayer about 3thousand .
    Our gravy train without our Sophie because she was in a helicopter
    Then headed for Holyrood where it terminated
    Our First Ministers Cabinet of 12 is double the number of Alec Salmonds and he managed to run a government and an Independence campaign with a cabinet half the size of Nicolas .
    The wage bill for Nicolas cabinet is 400thousand higher than 2007 when the SNP took power .
    This does not include the extra cost of civil service private office support transport costs it support pension entitlements and apparently a larger car pool is needed
    10 years ago 16 junior ministers were needed Nicola needs 26

    1. If your basing that claim of increased cost of the FM’s cabinet on the dubious calculations of Labour finance (chortle) spokesman James Kelly, you’ll need to revise it significantly down. Mr Kelly’s grasp of numbers is not great at the best of times, but he has outdone his ineptitude here.

      I don’t know why you have chosen to take over a decade ago as the benchmark as, obviously, things have changed since then. Holyrood has taken on more responsibilities; the govt has chosen to prioritise certain areas; not to mention the shambles that is Brexit. What you shouldn’t factor in (though Mr Kelly laughably did) is wage rises as the SNP govt only takes ministerial pay at 2009 levels.

      To get back to Mr Kelly’s …. ahem …. calculations regarding the extra cost of the FM’s new cabinet. He has included the basic pay of an MSP in his figures which ministers would get whether they were elevated or not, used figures for ministerial salaries that bare no relation to reality (about £10k out for each post), ignored the fact SNP ministers are actually paid at 2009 levels (despite 2018 salaries being far higher) and even made basic arithmetic errors. It’s quite tragic really.

      He claimed the new cabinet (with only 1 new minister and 2 new Secretaries) was £285k. In reality, it was only £89k. Far less than Mr Kelly’s ridiculous figure. A case in point of why Labour’s claims regarding finance and their own competence to govern are worthless.

      1. Thanks for your reply Bungo
        I did not know James Kelly had said anything nor did I take the figures wings over Scotland produced
        My main point is Alec Salmond ran a minority government and an independence campaign with half the size of Nicolas cabinet 16 junior ministers for Alec 26 for Nicola and so far she is still to run an Independence campaign .Although I think circumstances of her own making mean she cant put that of much longer
        I agree that Michael Russel needed to be brought into cabinet .
        Also why if the Transport secretary was to be brought into the cabinet why not leave him there instead of moving him to justice with Michael Mathieson going to Transport .
        Then we have the slight matter of the Education bill being withdrawn on reshuffle day with the education secretary left in place
        Although I have to say in fairness on Sunday I saw on tv a Strathclyde University Prof saying the withdrawal of the Education bill was a massive win for the education establishment over an elected government.
        I know you are in the health profession did you catch the piece Andrew Marr did for the Sunday Times some weeks ago on the history of the NHS and his own struggle with cancer

  8. The Transport and Justice portfolios are now cabinet positions so why swap secretaries and what did Angela Constance do that meant she had to leave the cabinet

  9. I am a Rangers supporter on oxygen 15 hrs a day .A union member GMB life member .Labour party member Ill health retirement .Under the care of doctors nurses hospitals GPS .Had to get a replacement power pack last week.
    Must not grumble what else could go wrong answer Tuesday .
    Major disaster the telly hand unit went on the blink .
    Would not change channels adjust the sound could not switch the tv off .Except at the socket .
    No amount of changing batteries speaking to the unit or shouting at it worked .
    Nor did blaming Nicola Jeremy Richard and saying to the unit where are they when you need them .
    Luckily I did see the England game .
    Then today the unit worked no problem must be an SNP supporter

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