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Play that mike again, Sam

A new job beckons for Sam Galbraith, Scotland's Children's Minister - and now chairman extraordinary.

At the recent childcare "summit" in Edinburgh, Galbraith won golden opinions. Not only did he address the meeting, but he stayed for the entire morning's proceedings. And not only that - he actually chaired the event, moving seamlessly from ministerial mode to presiding officer.

Then came the tour de force. "I'm going to come amongst you," announced the Pounds 69,339-a-year Minister of the Crown as he took the roving microphone and began conducting the question and answer session.

"OK, who wants to ask the first question apart from Sam Campbell?" asked chairman Galbraith, anxious not to have Midlothian's colourful social services convener get in the way of the practitioners' voice.

The honour fell to Raywyn Black of the West Lothian out-of-school network. She welcomed the Government's childcare strategy, said it was long overdue, pressed all the right buttons, delighted to see it, etc etc. "However . . ." she continued. "Ah yes, however . . ." Galbraith groaned.

Black followed her "however" with an attack on "outdated attitudes" among councillors and local officials. "Sam Campbell, I think you should respond to that," said the other Sam mischievously. "How long have I got?" asked Campbell. "Sixty seconds," said the even-handed chair.

As Campbell began helpfully to explain that Midlothian was just outside Edinburgh, he was rewarded with a magisterial "come on, get on with it" from the impatient children's champion.

Next on her feet was Sheila Cronin, head of Renfrewshire education's community and special services. "Now don't spend time praising our childcare strategy, " she was advised. "We'll take that as read."

Other helpful tips followed. "You've got to hold the microphone close to your mouth," Galbraith told one questioner. "Closer than that." As for his final questioner, nothing could be simpler. "I'll come to you," the chairman decided, advancing at speed. "You're at the front. It's easier."

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