Pupils witness a case of bad timing from MSP

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Rachael Hamilton, Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, was left with a red face last week during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.

Her rather poorly-timed question was met with a dressing down from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

It came minutes after Mrs Hamilton’s boss, Ruth Davidson MSP, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, took Mrs Sturgeon to task over the Scottish Government’s record in health and social services.

Mrs Sturgeon conceded that while there was still a lot of work to do, “the Scottish Government is, in many respects, ahead of any other part of the UK.”

Ms Davidson replied: “I often ask the First Minister about health and social care in Scotland, and she often answers me by talking about the situation in England. I think that people in Scotland want to hear about what is happening in Scotland.”

A little later, Mrs Hamilton welcomed visiting pupils from Kelso High School to the gallery (see page 37). and asked a question about small businesses.

She quoted the Scottish policy convener of the Federation of Small Businesses, Andy Willox, who said that the federation’s recent findings show “a long-term optimism gap between a typical firm in Scotland and their counterparts elsewhere in the UK,” and asked: “Will the First Minister listen to the concerns of small business and reverse the Government’s tax plans in order to help small business confidence to grow?”

Mrs Sturgeon replied: “I am sorry: I thought that we were not allowed to make comparisons between Scotland and England.

“Let me get this right, just for clarity ... when Scotland is doing better than the rest of the UK, the Tories’ position is that we are not allowed to say that, because comparisons are not legitimate, but when the Tories say that Scotland is not doing as well as the rest of the UK, it is absolutely fine to make comparisons. Are those really the rules by which the Tories want to play?”

She went on to add that the government was investing significant sums of money in supporting small businesses, and that the feedback from businesses is that their main concern is Brexit.

Mrs Sturgeon added: “That is why every time a Tory stands up in this chamber to talk about those kinds of issues, they should be deeply embarrassed about what their party at Westminster is preparing to do to the interests of this country.”

Later, Mrs Hamilton said: “The SNP Government is overseeing a rapid decline in small business confidence. And for good reason with an unnecessary income tax that will shrink the pay packets of thousands of people making them less willing to go out and spend their hard earned money.

“Small businesses play an important role in adding vibrancy and attracting visitors to our local communities and towns. The Scottish Government needs to do more to help grow their confidence and in turn help our communities.

“I challenged the First Minister on this very issue and was disappointed that once again she chose to deflect on other issues than to acknowledge and address the problem that is so acutely felt in Scotland and the Scottish Borders.”