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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Kirsty Strickland

I was missing the somewhat good old days during First Minister's Questions

I’M not for one second suggesting that the Sturgeon/Davidson/Dugdale First Minister’s Questions line-up represented the best that political debate has to offer.

But at times it was good, constructive even. And when it wasn’t, at least the brutal jibes they threw at one another were entertaining.

I found myself reminiscing about that crop of leaders around five minutes into one of Humza Yousaf’s replies to a question from Douglas Ross about the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

It came after an equally long-winded question from the Scottish Tory leader.

Are these fellas being paid by the hour or something?

After a modest SNP rebellion and a headline-grabbing speech from SNP MSP Fergus Ewing (where he tore up a copy of the fisheries plan in the chamber, describing it as a ‘’notice of execution’’ for the industry), the First Minister could have predicted that he would be quizzed on HPMAs during FMQs.

And yet we still ended up stuck down Jargon Alley with no hope of escape.

Douglas Ross asked the First Minister to define what “vehemently opposed” means, given his previous assurances that no community that is vehemently opposed to HPMAs will have one imposed upon them.

When trying to explain what a word means, I always think it’s helpful to use it in a sentence.

For example, I am vehemently opposed to the direction these questions are going.

It feels like we’re in danger of straying away from The Point, and given Humza, Douglas and Anas regularly drift into “it’s more of a comment than a question” territory as it is, this could become very time-consuming indeed.

In response, the First Minister said that the Scottish Tories had a pledge to pilot HPMAs in their past two manifestos and in recent days, they had changed their position on them numerous times.

“What we’ve made very clear is that this government will not impose HPMAs on any community that vehemently opposes them,” he said.

“We’ve done the consultation, we’ve had a huge response, it’s only right that now we analyse those responses’.”

He went on to say that, in terms of a mechanism to define whether a community supports or, indeed, “vehemently opposes” the proposals, it is something that the Scottish Government would “engage with the community” on.

He continued in what sounded like an answer scripted from an AI chatbot.

“We have done a consultation at early inception stage. It would be completely wrong of us to pre-empt what consent mechanism we end up putting in place or setting the perimeters here today.”

For his part, Douglas Ross seemed less interested in the content of the First Minister’s answers, and more on how happy or otherwise he judged SNP backbenchers to be at any given moment.

The Scottish Tory leader treated us to a running commentary on the facial expressions, clapping volume and general morale of his SNP opponents.

The gloomier they got, the happier he was.

Humza Yousaf’s FMQs performances aren’t exactly inspiring the troops, but perhaps Mr Ross’s evident joy at the SNP’s woes will jolt them out of their melancholy.

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