Journalism students from Glasgow Clyde College were treated to their own private scoop at Holyrood last week thanks to a timely Q&A session with Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.
Just hours earlier, Lamont had been at the heart of a fiery exchange of words during First Minister’s Questions when she had been asked twice by presiding officer, Tricia Marwick, to withdraw remarks claiming that Alex Salmond’s private and public admissions of Fiscal Commission reports on North Sea oil stabilisation funds were “simply dishonest.”
As word spread around the ground floor press area that this would be the Labour leader’s first interview since the chamber row, the clutch of waiting students sat in anticipation sensing an exclusive on their hands.
Dressed in a sombre navy blue suit and Labour-red pleated top, Lamont shuffled into the room with an air of someone who was indeed not having their usual run of the mill day at the office.
Quizzed by student Luke Reilly as to whether she agreed with the presiding officer’s decision about the use of the word “dishonest”, making no hesitation, Lamont replied: “Well, I accept her authority, though I am going to have a debate about whether it was unparliamentary or not.”
The row in question had been sparked by the Labour leader’s attempts to question the first minister on his plans to reveal warnings from The Fiscal Commission that the Government’s proposed stabilisation oil funds under independence would require either tax rises or spending cuts. With no straight answer forthcoming, Lamont hinted at a “central deceit”, before accusing Alex Salmond outright. She said: “The first minister is simply dishonest when he talks about a stabilisation fund.”
With a result of heated reaction from all sides of the chamber, Marwick called for immediate order and made request for the withdrawal of the comment from Lamont. The Labour leader continued, ignoring the presiding officer’s call as she said: “The first minister is not being accurate. When was the first minister going to tell us his choice to raise taxes or cut public spending? The answer is never. Honesty is not something this government deals in.” With that, Lamont was checked a second time by the presiding officer for her use of language.
At the press conference, Lamont made plain her frustrations of the issue, as she said: “We have a dilemma and a problem, and I actually said in the chamber, “I don’t then know what word I can use to describe what is happening”, because the presiding officer makes clear that she has no role in, or authority over what the first minister says. He could come in and he says “day is night”, she’d have no authority to overrule him. But if I am to say “that is not true and is a dishonest answer” – that is deemed as being unparliamentary. The challenge for me as leader of the opposition is to expose that it is happening.”
With her first public reaction to the chamber reprimand offloaded, Lamont was thereafter welcoming and open to a collection of varied questions from the students. Asked about potential Labour policy in light of her meeting with the Poverty Truth Commission; her views on the recent introduction of new alcohol crave-reduction drug, Nalmofene; and her personal stance on the Common Weal movement, she was both charming and droll in her anecdotal replies.
Ever keen to present a case for Labour to potential young voters, Lamont did supply her audience their scoop with the implication that on this given day, despite her experience as a mother and teacher, the charge of keeping both Scotland in the union, and at the same time convincing electors that they need her, is by far her biggest challenge to date.