Turning up the volume at FMQs

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Tory benches
Image caption,
Rival MSPs turned up the volume at FMQs

Volume matters in politics. It is not always the case, however, that the loudest contributions contribute the most.

Indeed, they can be, as Shakespeare reminded us, full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing.

I would, of course, never attribute such an outcome to the oratory of our elected tribunes at Holyrood. Each is a latter day Cicero.

But, still, volume counted in the Scottish Parliament today. Firstly, Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh felt obliged to provide a gentle rebuke to one or two contributors from a sedentary position.

The stage was set when Nicola Sturgeon rebutted claims of cuts in the police budget by referring to a doubling in the capital budget over a few years.

Her rhetorical approach was calculated to draw sympathetic cheers from those around her on the SNP benches.

They did not disappoint. In particular, Richard Lyle yelled "Oooooh!" in the stentorian bellow for which he is renowned (if you hear a notably loud roar when the PO calls a vote, don't bother to check - it will be Richard).

Jackson Carlaw for the Tories (now formally installed as leader, rather than apprentice) was less than impressed. Mr Lyle's thunderous contribution would not provide cash for coppers.

But the trend continued - as the exchanges over budgetary provision became somewhat heated.

Image caption,
Nicola Sturgeon countered opposition claims vigorously

Labour's Richard Leonard pursued the issue of GP numbers and availability, rather deftly pinning the FM by turning from the general question to individual examples.

Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats was comparably effective in challenging the first minister over the number of nursery teachers, specifically in Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon countered, vigorously, reminding the chamber of record levels of spending against a background of UK constraint.

I heard John Swinney booming support. The PO also detected a thunderous, seated contribution from Mike Russell.

Smiling like an indulgent school domine, who understands but is just a little sad, Mr Macintosh suggested to these two cabinet titans that they might turn down the dial a little.

That, in short, a period of silence would be welcome. Loadsaluck with that one, PO.

But, secondly, there was another question of volume. There was the dog that didn't bark.

Image caption,
Ken Macintosh made one of his regular appeals for calm in the Holyrood chamber

Yesterday the UK government published post-Brexit immigration proposals. For the Scots Tories, Jackson Carlaw issued a statement which was a masterpiece in Delphic nuance and caveat.

However, the Scottish party declined to make anyone available for interview to discuss the issue. Which left questions for Mr Carlaw today.

Did he support the UK government's approach? Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. But, reading between the closely packed lines of that statement, he plainly yearned for a distinctive Scottish approach to combat the SNP and content the lieges.

Ms Sturgeon thought so too. She cited reports to the effect that Mr Carlaw was privately angry with his UK colleagues.

However, he had thus far kept his own counsel. He was, declared Ms Sturgeon, "quietly livid". A decidedly apt phrase.

'Work in progress'

The upshot was that Mr Carlaw was cornered by the wicked media outside the chamber. Did he back the Home Office or not?

The reply, once again, was a master class in diplomatic discourse. The Home Office's proposals had not been fully understood or appreciated.

Equally, there were ideas to commend in the Scottish government's policies on the matter. But what did that mean? Did he back a Scottish visa - an idea described as "deranged" by the prime minister?

With an elegant sidestep, Mr Carlaw sashayed away, for all the world like a gifted amateur on Strictly Come Dancing.

He would be having further talks with UK ministers. He hoped, indeed, to see the PM in the near future. This was a "work in progress."

If and when conclusions emerge from those discussions, don't keep them to yourself, Mr Carlaw. Please share. Volubly.