With Scottish Labour’s new leadership team already beginning to set the agenda in Scottish politics, it would be easy to forget that today was only Kezia Dugdale’s second outing at first minister’s questions. The NHS is already a key dividing line in England and now it seems that Scottish Labour will also seek to make the health service a key battleground in their fight against the Scottish National party.
Following Jim Murphy’s pledge to recruit 1,000 new nurses using proceeds from a mansion tax, Kezia led on the highly topical issue of A&E waiting times. Unlike in England where this information is published weekly, she pointed out that it will be February until we know how well Scotland’s hospitals are coping this winter. Calling on Nicola Sturgeon to change policy and publish A&E waiting time figures every week, Kezia was clear in her case and specific in her request to the first minister.
Sturgeon’s first response made reasonable points about the reality of a public health service yet did nothing to address the specific question raised. It seemed at first as if the entire exchange between the two leaders might play out in a rather subdued tone. However, this was not to be the case as Sturgeon proved incapable of deploying the perennial nationalist excuse that any shortcoming of the Scottish government was in reality the fault of Labour and/or Westminster.
Having built a reputation for being a measured and reasonable deputy to Alex Salmond, Sturgeon has thus far displayed none of those traits as first minister. Rather, she has begun to display the worst characteristics of her predecessor as demonstrated by today’s parroting of the absurd Conservative line that Labour has somehow destroyed the NHS in Wales. It would seem the Tartan Tories never went away.
Kezia was able to use Sturgeon’s bluster to capably expose the lack of any proactive governing from the SNP since their referendum defeat. As Kezia rightly argued, the fact that almost eight years have passed since Labour left government in Holyrood means the SNP cannot simply continue to blame previous administrations. While there is surely no lack of passion from Kezia, she is clearly able to use it to her advantage, knowing exactly when to hold back and when to deliver the critical blow to the first minister.
Subsequent interventions from Jackie Baillie (who cheekily was still wearing her ‘No Thanks’ lanyard) and Iain Gray on oil prices and teacher numbers suggest Labour’s approach to FMQs is more strategic than in the recent past. Building a narrative throughout these half-hour slots that is built on solid policy commitments made outside the chamber is a refreshing approach and one that should in time deliver the rewards.
Callum Munro is communications and policy officer at Community the union. He tweets @Callum_Munro
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