And so, on the eve of Scotland’s local election, it fell to Murdo Fraser, the Tories’ chief Nat-baiter, to stoke the political fire.
He riled the SNP by asking Nicola Sturgeon about Scotland’s low rates of immigration. First Minister’s Questions had been brought forward to avoid a clash with today’s vote. Thoughtlessly so, since this put it in direct competition with a Homes under the Hammer repeat — but Mr Fraser provided more than enough entertainment.
The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP queried: ‘Why does the First Minister think that, after ten years of Scottish National Party government, Scotland is a relatively unattractive place for immigrants to come to?’
And they were off. Heckling and bellowing themselves into a right old state. This was Level Five Outrage, DEFCON Teacake. Mr Fraser’s phrasing could have been more artful but the question was perfectly reasonable. The SNP is a self-professed pro-immigration party and yet the country they have created doesn’t seem able to draw those who cross the world seeking a better life.
Miss Sturgeon was not quite so sanguine. The Nation had been insulted. ‘What an utterly disgraceful thing it is for a member of this parliament to stand up in the chamber and describe his own country as an “unattractive place” to live,’ she inveighed. ‘Murdo Fraser should hang his head in shame.’
Poor children in failing schools should try slagging off Scotland. They might finally get the First Minister’s attention.
Ruth Davidson looked unimpressed by her former rival for the Scottish Tory leadership. Fair enough — the Nats are going to rub her nose in ‘Scotland is a relatively unattractive place’. And the SNP chief piled on: ‘As I have said before in the chamber, I remember the days — they are becoming dark and distant days — when he used to be a serious politician. Now, it seems that he aspires just to be a figure of fun in the chamber.’
Humour is not Miss Sturgeon’s strong point. If you asked her why the chicken crossed the road, she would assure you that chickens were her number one priority and, while it was true targets to reduce rates of flattened-chicken syndrome were not being met, poultry transportation was still reserved to Westminster. Nationalists take themselves very seriously, as if the more po-faced they are, the more lofty their cause. Joyously, Murdo Fraser is the polar opposite. There is a touch of the larrikin about him, that independent spirit that appreciates the value of causing trouble from time to time.
Compare this to what the First Minister is working with. When Labour’s Pauline McNeill asked about plans to charge drivers for dropping off at Glasgow Airport, James Dornan shouted ‘use a bus’. Dornan is the chief chimp of the Nat enclosure, the backbenches where blundering ministers are exiled and the mad and mediocre seethe that the call to the front row never comes. He spends much of his time making grunting noises in the direction of the opposition parties and thumping his desk in approval of everything — anything — Nicola Sturgeon says.
Then there’s John Mason, the Nats’ pro-creationism campaigner, who has the look of a man lost on his way to a witch-burning, and Christina McKelvie, whose continued presence at Holyrood is surely depriving Hamilton Mecca of a delightfully brassy bingo caller. Our politicians are keen that the Scottish Parliament be more representative in gender, background and sexuality. It seems we’ve already met our quota for simpletons.
Yesterday was ten years to the day since the SNP won its first Scottish election. The First Minister made no reference to the historic anniversary. When she considers the division she has sown, the policy areas she has failed, and the calibre of MSP she has foisted on us, perhaps she sees a Scotland that has become a relatively unattractive place.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.