Bagpipes and hot air at First Minister's Questions

Bagpiper Image copyright PA
Image caption What does Alex Salmond think of a bagpipe ban at the Rugby World Cup?

Scour the internet via one of those helpful search engines and you will find that the ban on bagpipes has gone global.

The ban at the rugby World Cup, that is. Interest extends from the Jakarta Globe to the San Francisco Chronicle, not forgetting the Daily Record.

But it is the topic that dare not speak its name at Holyrood. Jim Eadie, the MSP for Edinburgh Southern, tried personfully.

Leaping to his feet, he argued that nothing stirred the soul quite as much as the sound of the pipes greeting our gallant lads on the rugby field. (Apart, presumably, from the odd try.)

Would the First Minister, he demanded, add his weight to the ruck of opinion condemning the decision which has banned the pipes from the New Zealand terraces?

Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage. Alex Salmond adjusted his scrum cap and prepared to do battle on behalf of the bagpipes.

Would he wield a ceremonial chanter? Would he suggest, mildly, that a rugby nation which terrifies the life out of its opponents with the haka has a cheek banning the pipes?

We shall never know. The referee, in the shape of Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick, intervened.

Looking disconcerted, she pointed out to Mr Eadie that the topic under discussion was the loss of jobs in the further education sector. Not rugby. Nor bagpipes.

The PO was, of course, right. One must have order.

New funding

If MSPs are discussing ferret-taming, one cannot have a stray parliamentarian intervening with a comment about the rings of Saturn.

Still, I would like to have heard the FM's answer.

Labour argued that it was a day for unanswered questions. Iain Gray asserted that the Scottish Government planned to "close" Abertay University in Dundee - and demanded a "yes or no" response to that assertion.

Unsurprisingly, the FM declined to oblige.

He noted that the Budget settlement had provided substantial new funding to universities - which had been widely welcomed, with one principal calling the deal "fantastic".

In a later statement, the SNP accused Mr Gray of scaremongering. Closure was not on the horizon.

Instead, Abertay had been asked to delay the appointment of a new principal, pending talks with Dundee University about future plans, including the possible "merger of functions".

For his part, Mr Gray is unabashed. He stands by his claim, made in the chamber, that there is a Scottish Government "hit list", particularly with regard to the college sector which is facing budget cuts.

Again, ministers insist that claim is unsubstantiated - that Mike Russell has asked the colleges to consider whether their present system of operation is cost efficient and whether function-sharing or mergers might be possible.

Ministers stress further that they have pledged substantial sums of money to providing training and apprenticeships: to fund outcomes rather than, necessarily, the current FE structure.

Straight man

On to Annabel Goldie, who challenged the presumed benefits from cutting corporation tax in Scotland, noting that relatively few businesses would gain.

Better, she said, to cut rates and persist with the small business bonus which, she said further, had been "delivered by the Tories."

Perhaps it was the strain of juggling the figures and delivering a reform budget but this was just too much for the Finance Secretary John Swinney.

He hooted with laughter and yelled in Miss Goldie's general direction: "I just love the way you tell 'em."

It fell, on this occasion, to the FM to act as straight man, noting in dry fashion that the small business bonus had survived the emergence of the SNP as a majority government and thus owed its continued existence solely to his team.

At this point in the proceedings, a pipe band entered the chamber, kilts swinging, belting out the Black Bear. If only.

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