For Holyrood politicos it’s what’s happening outside of the Chamber which is capturing the most interest – see the Smith Commission, the Scottish Labour leadership race and the SNP deputy leadership race. However, inside the chamber serious national and constituency issues were tackled by Labour and Liberal Democrat stand-ins Jackie Baillie and Alison McInnes, as well as regulars Alex Salmond and Ruth Davidson. There are now only two chances left to watch Salmond in the hot seat demonstrating his repertoire of political skills.
Following cross-party recognition of Johann Lamont’s public service and commitment to social justice, child poverty and carers, Audit Scotland’s report on the NHS in Scotland became the centre of the exchanges between Baillie and the First Minister. The Audit Scotland report questioned the plans in place to deliver the Government’s plan and the 2020 vision which seeks to improve community services and avoid a top-heavy primary care focus.
Baillie pulled out key points from the report demonstrating the NHS strain. She argued that there was a growing crisis in the NHS characterised by poor planning, slow progress, squeezed budgets and services which were putting at risk. As Lamont has done many times, Baillie sought to demonstrate that Salmond was operating in a different world to the rest of Scotland and the NHS staff that were under more pressure than ever to deliver services. It was Salmond versus the rest – he was belligerent and out of touch, was the message.
There is always scope to pull out the positives from a generally negative report such as this, and Salmond did exactly that. He identified key improvements in the report such as outcomes for cancer patients, a death rate reduction and positive waiting time results. As any SNP orator would, Salmond found his way back to a core argument. Scotland’s NHS was operating in a constrained environment due to the Westminster austerity project. He questioned how much worse the situation would have been under a Labour administration. Neither of the leaders came up smelling of roses, but this report will have deeper reverberations with Alex Neil and the health and social care directorate. It is also likely to be one of the first ports of call for Sturgeon as she takes the reigns in November.
Ruth Davidson stated that there had been failed promises over the Government’s commercial plans for Glasgow Prestwick airport after it was taken under its control. She quizzed the First Minister on when the Government would be producing a plan back to private ownership. The First Minister was defensive. He praised his Government’s actions in stepping in to save jobs and the economy in the surrounding area. He attempted to offer reassurance to the Conservative leader by indicating that it would be on his to do list before he leaves his position. Not much was gained from the exchange, but Sturgeon will be in front of the Infrastructure Committee in the coming weeks to discuss the matter further.
Alison McInnes stood in for Willie Rennie and asked why children with mental health issues were wrongly and increasingly being referred to non-specialist units. The First Minister offered a meeting with the Health Secretary, stating it was an issue he was aware of.