Ruth Davidson enjoys First Minister’s Questions beyond what is proper and decent.
There are a dozen members of the public watching — half if there’s a Columbo on ITV2 — but the Scottish Tory leader puts on a show for them. How she relishes tormenting Nicola Sturgeon. Before Miss Davidson became head of the opposition at Holyrood, it is unclear if the First Minister was aware that conversations customarily involve more than one person speaking.
The final FMQs before today’s General Election was one of the Tory firecracker’s sparkiest turns. The night before the FM had made a boo-boo — albeit an intentional one — and revealed during the STV leaders’ debate that Kezia Dugdale had confided in her the day after the EU referendum that Labour may drop its opposition to Indyref 2. The Scottish Labour boss rebutted this but not terribly convincingly and, anyway, the damage was done.
Now, this was an 89th minute decider for Davidson and she was doing victory laps of Hampden in her head. At FMQs, though, she pronounced herself shocked — shocked — to find politics going on in this election: ‘Everybody now knows not to have a private chat with the First Minister, because if it suits her purposes, everybody will get to hear about it.’
‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed,’ her words were saying but the twinkle in her eye was squealing ‘Wheeeeeeeeeee!’ The final hours of the campaign would be dominated by yet another discussion of whether Scottish Labour could be relied on to defend the Union.
It was all something about nothing, the First Minister assured the chamber. Kezia Dugdale had admitted it all in a newspaper interview last year. Well, she’d mentioned getting a phone call from Nicola Sturgeon; the bit about unilaterally abandoning Labour’s Unionism… not so much. ‘I know what was said in that conversation and so does she,’ cried Sturgeon, wounded that anyone would question her integrity. ‘I am standing in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament and saying it.’ Of course, you can trust Miss Sturgeon’s word. The last time she told a whopper was an entire generation ago.
I can’t imagine why Theresa May doesn’t want her in on the highly sensitive Brexit talks. By the first coffee break of day one, she’d have stuck a selfie with Donald Tusk on Twitter.
Miss Dugdale tried to salvage her reputation and Labour’s election campaign but was rebuked by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh for accusing the SNP chief of telling a ‘fib’. I’ve heard quite a few voters refer to her as ‘that fibbing woman’, at least I think that’s what they said. But parliamentary rules bar MSPs from accusing ministers of lying, an old-fashioned protocol but probably sensible with this mob in charge. Can you imagine what it would be like if the opposition held up proceedings every time ministers told a porkie? Why, we might go a year without any legislation being passed.
Miss Dugdale came back at the First Minister over unfilled nursing posts and cancelled operations: ‘That should shame the First Minister but we know what nothing does.’ The Labour MSP should have thought twice before being so candid in a phone chat with the FM. Besides, when you phone Bute House the recorded message is pretty clear:
‘Thank you for calling the Scottish Government. Your call is important to us. Press 1 if you would like another referendum on independence. Press 2 if you have been falsely smeared by an SNP politician. Press 3 to report a sighting of health secretary Shona Robison… Your call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes and reading aloud on national television.’
Elsewhere, FMQs was the standard smorgasbord of sanctimony, with Green MSPs Patrick Harvie and Ross Greer denouncing Donald Trump and imploring the Scottish Government to do likewise. Greer, who is 13 if he’s a day, carries a perpetual look of bewilderment, as if he’s just emerged traumatised from his first sex education lesson.
Nicola Sturgeon’s loyal foot soldiers on the backbenches filled the rest of the time with toadying questions of the Nicola-why-are-you-so-wonderful calibre. Labour’s Neil Findlay snarked: ‘With the number of planted questions, I think we’re at Gardeners’ Question Time.’ Findlay is so far to the Left he makes Ho Chi Minh look like Norman Tebbit but when it comes to one-liners he buries the Nats every time.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.