How to love yourself

Neil Findlay Image copyright PA
Image caption Neil Findlay (seen here on the left) appeared to praise himself in a press release (below)
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Finally, the unvarnished truth. A statement from a senior politician, shorn of spin, devoid of manipulation. The hero in question? Labour's Neil Findlay.

Earlier this week, the MSP issued a confident news release, informing an astonished nation: "Neil Findlay praises Neil Findlay's huge contribution."

This, I felt at the time, is more like it. No nonsense. No prevarication. A politician saying: look, basically, I think I'm great and I feel you should explain this to the wider public.

But what was this? A correction hurriedly issued. What had happened? Had Mr Findlay fallen out of love with himself? Had there been a rift?

Not quite. Turned out that his encomium had actually been aimed at the departing Gordon Brown.

A slip of the keyboard, no doubt by an admiring aide, had produced a paean of unalloyed self-promotion.

These and sundry other odd thoughts occurred to me as I commented upon questions to the first minister today. Not that Nicola Sturgeon or her interlocutors indulged in self-praise. At least, not overtly.

Ultimate responsibility

Nevertheless, there was an element of unquestioned certainty at the core of the exchanges today.

Ms Sturgeon and Labour's Jackie Baillie traded statistics over the state of the NHS. But they agreed on one fundamental: staff in the health service must always be depicted as saintly.

Indeed, they competed with each other in this endeavour.

With regard to a variety of problems, they posited alternative views re blame. Ms Baillie had but a single target: Sturgeon, N.

For her part, the FM said she accepted ultimate responsibility - but was inclined to include one or two others, such as health service management.

So, talking about difficulties experienced in NHS Grampian, Ms Sturgeon said that her Ministerial team would directly supervise improvements to be brought about by the new management set-up in Aberdeen.

In so doing, she accused Ms Baillie of "criticising staff" working in the NHS. No, no, said Ms Baillie. She would "take no lessons" from her counterpart.

Hospital staff were due unvarnished praise. They had been let down by the Scottish government.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon traded NHS statistics with Labour's Jackie Baillie during first minister's questions

This tone extended to the controversy over cleanliness at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Wards, according to inspectors, were somewhat short of pristine. Unscheduled blood stains. That sort of thing.

The discourse at Holyrood today was of staffing numbers, of vacancies, of statistics, of strategy, of management. Nobody mentioned the possible deployment of a bucket and sponge.

From this, we turned to the issue of house purchase, with Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives.

You will recall that, in his autumn statement, the chancellor announced reform to stamp duty. Nicked, say Nationalists, from the Scottish Government - but no matter for now.

Ms Davidson's assertion was that the Osborne version was much fairer than the one advanced by John Swinney. (The UK one takes effect right away, the new devolved Scottish version comes in next April.)

There are several differences between the two systems.

Ms Davidson focused upon the fact that homes above £250k in England will attract five per cent stamp duty for the future while, from April, homes above £250k in Scotland will face a Land and Buildings Transaction Tax of 10%.

'Class warrior'

It amounted, said Ms Davidson, to a Swinney Tax, a "Left-wing Nationalist tax on aspiration". In response, Ms Sturgeon said she loved the finance secretary dearly but he was an unlikely candidate for the post of class warrior.

Sitting beside her on the front bench, Mr Swinney immediately leaped to his feet, clenched his fist in a defiant salute and broke into a rendition of Bandiera Rossa.

Joking, I am. Rather, Mr Swinney sat demurely silent, smiling quietly to himself, like a bank manager presented with a particularly courageous mortgage application.

In any event, Ms Sturgeon counter-attacked. The Scottish system was designed for the Scottish housing market, with particular incentives for first time buyers.

If, she said, Ms Davidson wished to change that - for example, helping those in the most expensive properties - she should specify losers as well as winners.

Translation: loadsaluck with that.