First Minister's Questions: So, where are the baddies?

Blazing Saddles Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The 1974-film Blazing Saddles starred Mel Brooks and Harvey Korman

One of my favourite movies is "Blazing Saddles." I know, I know, it's infantile nonsense - but it is, quite frequently, funny infantile nonsense.

I first saw it in St Andrews where there were two cinemas, imaginatively titled the Old and - you've guessed it - the New. We went to each in turn, pretty well regardless of what was showing.

Entering the Old a little late one week, I sat down to what, on the face of it, was a western. That is, until the railroad gang started singing "I get no kicks from Champagne."

Anyway, there is a scene where the sheriff and his team are exhorting the townsfolk to help out in resisting the baddies.

They are decidedly reluctant until the clinching argument is put. "You'd do it for Randolph Scott!" At which point they chorus the name of their hero in angelic tones before consenting to the request for assistance. The very name removed all objections.

I thought of this, bizarrely, as Nicola Sturgeon and Labour's Kezia Dugdale traded statistics on the NHS at Holyrood.

Ms Dugdale was pursuing the iterative approach which she has made her own, listing a succession of doctors who have raised questions about hospital provision and inviting the First Minister to agree or disagree.

Naturally, Ms Sturgeon was too smart to fall into the trap of condemning the gloomy medics. (Headline: Now Sturgeon Blames the Docs.)

Image caption Sir Stephen House received the backing of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Instead, she tried the Randolph Scott tack. Just like the screen cowboy, NHS staff were indisputably wonderful. They could not be criticised, queried even. Challenging health service delivery was tantamount to defaming those very staff.

Indeed, she went further. The Labour deputy leader, she said, was "trashing the achievements" of the folk working in our hospitals.

Ms Dugdale initially declined to rise to the attack, describing her rival's contributions as "absolutely dire". But finally she responded in terms, arguing that it was NHS staff who were warning of problems.

Ms Sturgeon repeated her statement: Labour's questions were a "disservice", not to her, but to hospital staff who had striven to improve performance.

Loyalty to staff featured again later. Labour's Elaine Murray invited the FM to state whether she retained confidence in the Chief Constable, Sir Stephen House. This followed the controversy over stop-and-search when Ms Sturgeon had offered support to the cops in general.

Food production

It was a little like a scene in a trial drama where the determined advocate, looking suitably stern, poses a zinger. The camera pans round the public benches, packed with concerned onlookers. What will the response be?

It came swiftly and forcibly. The FM did indeed have full confidence in the CC. Indeed, she invited MSPs to support not just the top cop but also his force whose daily endeavours were aimed at protecting our lives and liberties.

For the Tories, Ruth Davidson asked what impact land reform would have on food production and shop prices. Ms Sturgeon appeared genuinely puzzled by the question.

Ms Davidson had accused the Scottish government of putting ideology before practicality with the measures. In return, the FM said it was the Tories who were obsessed with ideology. Maybe it'll have more zip as a movie.

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