FMQs becomes pre general election Mexican standoff - but are voters even listening?

john swinney
-Credit: (Image: Ken Jack/Getty Images)

With a general election looming, every First Minister’s Questions now is like a three-way Mexican standoff.

In the middle you’ve got the newly installed SNP sheriff John Swinney, fatherly, experienced, maybe slightly out of practice.

Douglas Ross of the Tories is on the right, the rash hothead who it seems might pop off any moment. On the left, Labour’s Anas Sarwar, who fancies the top job and is ever probing for the sheriff’s weaknesses.

Questions abound. Are their guns duds? Do they have the aim of Star Wars stormtroopers? And is anyone normal even watching this tete-a-tete-a-tete?

Both the main opposition parties are convinced they’re onto a winner by attacking Swinney on the Michael Matheson iPad scandal, so they duly did so again.

After the MSP’s astonishing £11,000 data roaming bill, an irate Ross understandably asked: "In what other walk of life would Michael Matheson still be in a job?”

The problem for Ross, to paraphrase Bruce Banner, is he’s always irate - and he got himself in hot water with the sheriff’s sheriff, Holyrood presiding officer Alison Johnstone.

douglas ross
Irate Douglas Ross earned a telling off from the Presiding Officer. -Credit:Ken Jack/Getty Images

As Swinney explained that he accepted the 27-day ban of Matheson endorsed by parliament, an excitable Ross yelled, “But not by you!”

This earned a stern rebuke from Johnstone who said she was “extremely frustrated” at Ross’ interruptions.

The Tory boss stood up pink-faced and was forced to say “I apologise” to his sworn enemy. That grinding sound you could hear was, I think, Ross’ teeth.

In his defence, he’s not the only one wondering why the FM has blown up this story by defending his pal so vigorously.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during First Minister's Questions. -Credit:Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Back to our three blokes and their duelling pistols, Sarwar was up and used Matheson’s status as ex-Health Secretary to segue into questions about the state of our NHS.

With one in six Scots on a waiting list, Sarwar asked: “Why is John Swinney more interested in defending Michael Matheson than defending our NHS?"

Now, the electioneering really kicked into gear, with Swinney quoting Labour’s Wes Streeting who recently said regards NHS funding that “all roads lead to Westminster” - you just know that’ll run all election-long.

The Tories dearly hope the Matheson scandal is having that hallowed “cut-through” with voters that could help it chip away at the SNP in the north-east and Swinney’s own Perthshire stomping ground.

The NHS has always been a key issue with voters in the run-up to an election - the question is, do Scots voters believe a Labour government at Westminster will give it the boost it sorely needs?

That’s the point of a Mexican standoff - no one emerges a clear winner. That will be determined by voters on July 4.

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