Nicol Stephen, FMQs Hero …

OK, it is becoming a weekly success for Nicol Stephen – star of First Minister’s questions – but he was particularly brilliant on Thursday.
In challenging the Deputy First Minister Nicola Cheerful over false claims by Alex Salmond that the Government has launched a consultation on the SNP’s election promise to scrap student debt, Nicol said,

“The First Minister gave a BBC interview last week. He was asked why the Government had dropped its promise to write off student debt. In reply, the First Minister said:

“’We’ve published a consultation document on student debt, which is out for consultation at the present moment. I am sure that’s available to read.’

“Is anything that he said in those two sentences true?

“The First Minister was very clear last week that he had published a consultation and that it was available to read. However, we made a request for the document under the freedom of information legislation and we got the following back from the Government:

‘We believe that releasing information on the policy proposals would not be in the public interest at this time.’

“What is it with the Government and this policy?

“Four weeks ago, Fiona Hyslop appeared on STV to deny that she had ever promised to write off student debt in the first place. The First Minister has now been on the BBC to fabricate an entire Government consultation. In the interview, James Watson from Glasgow, the father of a student, asked him, ‘Why do you have to lie to the people to get voted into power?’

“Can the Deputy First Minister give Mr Watson an honest answer?”

I am going to be generous here and say that Nicola Sturgeon did well too – she’s actually a rather good performer and less abrasive than Salmond. Labour Leader Wendy Alexander was utterly terrible, but nothing new there then.

Nicol continues to receive praise for his sharp questioning at FMQs from political pundits across the board:

· Alan Cochrane, Scottish Political Editor, Daily Telegraph: “By God, he’s done it again! Regular readers may well be growing tired of this column’s paeans of praise directed at Nicol Stephen, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, but the fact remains that he is, by a long Scots mile, easily the best opposition that we have to Alex Salmond.” (Telegraph 02.05.08)

Eddie Barnes, Political Editor, Scotland on Sunday: “It was another surgical strike for Nicol Stephen.” (Holyrood Live 01.05.08)