Nicola Sturgeon called this second referendum for a dare.
She must have. There is no way she thought it was a good idea to put herself front and centre in a spectacle of the sort that played out in the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
MSPs packed the chamber to decide whether to ask Theresa May for a second referendum on independence. The same Theresa May who has said they can’t have a second referendum on independence. But they had the debate anyway, even though it wasn’t actually a debate because the SNP and the Greens have already said how they would vote on it.
The non-debate on whether to have a debate on something we had a debate about three years ago is in such demand that it is being held over two days. Two days. Joan McAlpine didn’t speak yesterday. You know what that means? Joan McAlpine is going to speak today. Right now, as you flick leisurely through your daily paper, a dozen hacks are desperately trying to piece together languid whale sound interspersed with cries of ‘Toooaries’ and ‘Westminsturrr’ and turn it into an intelligible quote.
Nicola Sturgeon made her case for a second referendum. She didn’t want to be here. She loved Britain. Magna Carta! Stephen Fry! Competitive baking! It was those horrid Tories and their EU referendum. If it weren’t for Brexit, she’d be painting Bute House red, white and blue and heading out to her Morris dancing class tonight.
Anyway, it was all about democracy and respecting the will of the Scottish Parliament.
Ruth Davidson’s sleeves were rolled up and she was going at it with any Nat who had the misfortune to enter her eyeline. The First Minister wanted a grievance so she could ‘rush to a nearby microphone with the angry face on and trot out the same old, tired complaints,’ the Tory leader spat. SNP boot boy Kenny Gibson bawled that Miss Davidson was against independence ‘because you are told to by London’. ‘One day Kenny Gibson will make it to the front bench but it will not be this week,’ she shot back.
Kezia Dugdale wasn’t having a bar of the First Minister’s faux reluctance. Miss Sturgeon was at it. Every time progress had been made across the UK, the SNP leader had been there, bumping her gums about independence. Miss Dugdale doesn’t do gutsy anywhere near often enough but when she does, her target had better duck for cover.
Willie Rennie, cheeky wee imp that he is, brought up comments from Alex Salmond. The allegedly former SNP leader had revealed the SNP wasn’t after EU membership but EFTA. Haud the bus. Was it– Were they– Could it be that the SNP was saying one thing to Remainers and another to Brexiteers? The Nats, he charged, were ‘prepared to use pro-Europeans to get a referendum but will sell them out to win independence.’
Then the Scottish Lib Dem leader accused the separatists of undermining the Scottish Parliament. That went down like Nicola Sturgeon’s personal approval rating — hard, fast, and the Nats didn’t like it. He wouldn’t take an intervention, so one Nat MSP told on him to the presiding officer, only to be told to sit down and wheesht herself.
It wasn’t a great day for showcasing talent on the SNP benches and aside from Bruce Crawford and Jenny Gilruth, Nationalist contributions were cringe-worthy. When Christina McKelvie quotes Abraham Lincoln, you can’t help but wonder if somewhere out there Barack Obama is reading aloud from the Argos catalogue.
The SNP saved the best till last, when its Brexit minister summed up for the government. Mike Russell isn’t as funny as he thinks he is and exactly as funny as his colleagues think he is. He read out all the charges the Tories level at Nicola Sturgeon and everyone waited for the punchline. Was he going to produce a new poll showing a spike in Miss Sturgeon’s popularity? A leaked memo of Ruth Davidson saying the First Minister was jolly lovely? No, he was listing all his boss’s negative points so he could go on to say Theresa May was worse.
Miss Sturgeon glowered. She was probably remembering that she had another day of this to go.