Let's start at the end of the programme this week. Brian Taylor, during his summarising said. "Not the sharpest or most vigorous FMQs," and he was right. It was dull, not just dull but pedestrian. Not even Alan Cochrane's acerbic comments hit the spot.
Labour's Iain Gray wanted to know why the government was spending £20,000 in flying in a 'stage hypnotist' to give 260 young, unemployed young people a pep talk when the money could be spent on apprenticeships. Personally I think it's a splendid idea because Mr McKenna is an accomplished positive thinker as well as a hypnotist and many of our youngsters suffer from poor self-images. I admit I could do with a pep talk from Mr McKenna myself. Do you think the government would arrange one for pensioners?
The FM responded to Mr Gray's questions with a series of statistics. I will quote just a couple.
*Scottish Action received £145m to help the unemployed and redundant into the labour market.
* In 2009 £16m was given by government for additional apprenticeships.
The FM said these (and others mentioned) were substantial initiatives and he couldn't understand why the labour party had voted against them in the recent budget.
Annabel Goldie's question centred on the freedom of the press and the allegations that the Ssottish government had used £625,000 of public money to sponsor programmes on STV. She seemed to imply the FM had not been transparent in his evidence when questioned earlier this week. Alex Salmond responded his figure was £618,00 and half that given to STV under the old administration. Ms Goldie elegantly displayed a FOI reply which showed most of the reply had been redacted. FOI=Full of Ink. Yes I know, even the jokes were pathetic this week.
Detailing the expenditure Alex Salmond mentioned £18,000 had been spent on a children's panel called 'Make Me Happier' and fronted by Loraine Kelly, with £150,000 being spent on the Homecoming series which 2.517m Scots viewed. Any other programmes which highlighted Scotland were not sponsored by the Scottish government he insisted.
It's Scottish Tourism week and Tavish Scott was looking for subsidies for hotels who have had their business rates increased. The FM was having none of it and jumped straight into more statistics regarding the small business rates which benefit 60% of small businesses. He reiterated rating evaluations are done by independent assessors not himself or government and Scotland's small bonus scheme was the best in the UK.
Other topics included the inquiry into the death of Alison Hume but the FM said it would be inappropriate for him to comment as it is currently subject of a fatal accident inquiry. He did mention Health and Safety ongoing investigations. The introduction of driver only trains in an area of the central belt and alcohol in pregnancy completed the session.
Best Question: It could be Annabel Goldie has something up her sleeve about the sponsorship of STV. If so she deserves the accolade.
Indeed, not the sharpest or most vigorous FMQs.