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Ding! ding! Ding! Seconds out, round ..

Ding! ding! Ding! Seconds out, round ..

Ding! ding! Ding! Seconds out, round ... errr, is anyone keeping count? Fiona Hyslop showed up at Parliament's education committee last week for another grilling about class sizes, where she proved herself a master of the "rope-a-dope" technique Muhammad Ali used to outfox George Foreman in their Rumble in the Jungle.

Back in 1974, Foreman was the odds-on favourite, a fearsome specimen far removed from the cuddly kitchenware peddler he would later become. But Ali bobbed, weaved and absorbed a torrent of blunderbuss punches, and Foreman became frustrated by his inability to finish things off. By the eighth round he was worn out, and Ali pounced to spectacular effect.

The Education Secretary is a similarly wily opponent, dodging all attempts to batter her into submission for detail on the Government's plans to reduce all P1-3 classes to 18. Pow! Lib Dem Jeremy Purvis wants to know how many teachers it'll take. Biff! Labour's Ken Macintosh demands to know how much it's going to cost. Albeit a pummelling from the strait-laced Messrs Purvis and Macintosh falls a little short of the ferocity of a Foreman onslaught.

Karen - kerunch! - Whitefield is another matter: she reels in opponents with her mumsy manner, then strikes. The committee convener flutters her eyelashes, smiles benignly, and thanks the Cabinet Secretary for finding the time to come along to her little committee.

Then, a devastating change in tone which would be imperceptible on a TV with the volume turned down: isn't the Government guilty of an "unforgivable breach of promise?" she beams menacingly.

It's not so easy to pin down our Fiona, though. "No" is apparently the 128th most commonly used word in the English language, and "Yes" joins the lexicographical hit parade at 158. In Fionaspeak, however, they languish well behind "Cosla", "concordat" and "dinna-blame-us-ya-tubes-it's-the-cooncils'-fault-noo" (we paraphrase).

Ali and Foreman would have been pulled apart after 15 rounds. But the class sizes slugfest looks set to run ... and run ... and run ...

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