High praise for Stephen from Scotsman

by Stephen Tall on February 12, 2008

No, not me – it’s the Lib Dems’ Scottish leader Nicol Stephen who has been earning plaudits from The Scotsman’s Hamish MacDonnell:

A couple of weeks ago, Wendy Alexander held a dinner for some members of the Holyrood political press corps. Her aim was to explain her thinking on the constitutional convention but, in the course of the evening, the Scottish Labour leader was told – quite bluntly – that she was pretty awful at First Minister’s Questions. She was informed that not only was she being beaten by Alex Salmond every week, but that Nicol Stephen was doing a much better job for the Liberal Democrats than she was for Labour.

That dinner happened just after one of Ms Alexander’s worst ever performances: she started by asking a question about SportScotland, went on to talk about the Budget and ended on police pensions, failing to score a point with any of her efforts. At the same session, Mr Stephen asked three pointed and direct questions about SportScotland and had the First Minister riled, angry and unable to answer clearly.

Mr Stephen was under considerable pressure after the election. His party had failed to live up to its own expectations, coming fourth with only 16 seats, and was out of government for the first time since devolution. Critical voices started to be heard behind the scenes, with some suggesting Tavish Scott would make a better leader than Mr Stephen, who was seen by some as lazy and uninspiring. Now, Mr Stephen appears as secure as Stirling Castle, and the reason is simple: First Minister’s Questions.

Mr Stephen has always taken a direct route to FMQs, asking short, direct questions of Mr Salmond, while refusing to be blown off course by the First Minister’s rhetoric. The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader has also not been afraid to hit hard and low, when he needs to. His claim that there was a “smell of sleaze” around the First Minister’s role in the calling-in of the Trump development remains the one stand-out comment from the parliament since the last election. Whether it is his attitude, his questions or just the fact he is a Liberal Democrat, Mr Stephen gets right under Mr Salmond’s skin, and the First Minister hates it. Mr Salmond finds it very hard to control his vitriol when Mr Stephen starts asking awkward questions, which often results in a loss of concentration and victory for the Lib Dem leader.

The number of people outside the parliament who have watched Mr Stephen get the better of Mr Salmond is very small, but that is not the point. Mr Stephen has grown in confidence with every session of FMQs he takes part in. As that happened, so morale within his parliamentary party has increased, cementing his place as leader. That permeates down to activists on the ground, allowing the party to grow as an effective opposition party after eight years in government.

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I think Nicol Stephen is great…

I met / saw him at Brighton conference and thought how cool it’d be if he was a senior chap down in England.

by Mark on February 13, 2008 at 11:08 am. Reply #

How many people watch first minister’s questions?

by James Schneider on February 13, 2008 at 11:57 am. Reply #

Nicol’s best victory was on Salmond’s letter-writing to repressive regimes asking for their support for the removal of Trident from Scotland.

“Did a shiver run up his spine as he signed letters to the governments of some of the most despotic, repressive, undemocratic, villainous regimes in the world, Iran, Burma and Zimbabwe?”

What the Scottish Lib Dems really need is more eye-catching policies. Once again, phase out sectarian schools. It’s progressive, cost effective and a surefire vote-winner.

by Anax on February 13, 2008 at 2:14 pm. Reply #

He must be watching a different First Minister’s Questions. ‘Smell of sleaze’ was a crafty soundbite (good speechwriter there) I’ll grant you, but given the complete lack of any substantive evidence against Alex Salmond (and Nicol’s own interesting constituency background with the West Aberdeen bypass) it’s being remembered for eloquence, not accuracy. No one has even mentioned a need for a level of investigation anywhere near the ones being touted about Wendy Alexander.

And I remember more the comeback from Salmond the next week – a direct and deserved accusation of hypocrisy, considering the Lib Dems were bankrolled to the tune of £2.4m by an illegal donor who is now in jail for fraud. Stephen was almost crying.

Based on that, I suspect Nicol doesn’t get the heaviest comebacks because Salmond doesn’t go to odds to prepare against him. He’s a fourth party, an irrelevance – and yet a year ago he was talking about how he could be First Minister after May.

by Marco on February 21, 2008 at 1:12 pm. Reply #

Eh? “Illegal donor” – dream on.

As the Electoral Commission said,

“it was reasonable for the Liberal Democrats – based on the information available to them at the time – to regard the donations they received from 5th Avenue Partners Ltd in 2005, totaling just over £2.4m, as permissible. It remains the Commission[‘]s view that the Liberal Democrats acted in good faith at that time, and the Commission is not re-opening the question of whether the party or its officers failed to carry out sufficient checks into the permissibility of the donations.”

by Grammar Police on February 21, 2008 at 3:21 pm. Reply #

Nicol performed exceptionally well during the Scottish elections and we were very unluck to lose the amount of constituency seats that we did.

However, as a North East Liberal Democrat, he has been doing the party no favours of late with his almost hysterical outbursts against the Trump golf plans. Most people here want them and he’s playing a very dangerous game indeed which has not helped our councillors, who seem to be intent on self-destructing over this issue if today’s P&J is anything to go by.

by Andrew B on February 21, 2008 at 9:54 pm. Reply #

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