20th November 2009 at 00:00

He came. He sat. He waited. He stuck the knife in, wriggled it around, and promptly left.

This was the education committee's introduction to Des McNulty, Labour's new education spokesperson. He spoke about the "tragedy" of new teachers unable to find work and the Government's "flagship" class-sizes policy that had failed to produce more jobs, even though that was a "reasonable expectation".

Did Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop accept "personal responsibility" for the job situation? he demanded.

Naturally she didn't. Mr McNulty's remarks, she suggested, would be better aimed at Steven Purcell, the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, which had cut hundreds of teaching posts. He was unperturbed. Mr McNulty had the look of a man whose prey is snared and who has, nestled in his pocket, the key to the armoury.

New teachers were "suffering" as a result of her policy failure, he continued. They had been left "high and dry" by the Scottish Government. What was Ms Hyslop doing to reassure them, he asked.

But Ms Hyslop had hardly answered before Mr McNulty upped and left. With his contribution over, clearly the committee held no further interest. SNP MSPs did their best to look horrified.

Doubtless, Ms Hyslop yearned to follow. Already she had come under fire from committee convener Labour MSP Karen Whitefield, who quizzed her at length about why the class-sizes policy had failed, what resources had been put in to make it work and when - if delivery in 2009 was impossible - the Scottish people could expect it?

Ms Hyslop tried to halt the onslaught, reminding Ms Whitefield she was supposed to be neutral (thereby implying she was being about as neutral as a Rangers fan at an Old Firm match, waving a Union Jack and singing "The Sash".) Ms Hyslop also suggested this was old ground.

But class sizes was an important issue, argued the Lib Dems' Margaret Smith as she entered the fray. And, besides, Ms Hyslop promised!

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