Friends, comrades, snivelling Blairite sellouts.
Alex Rowley might not have come to bury Anas Sarwar but he may as well have. Whatever possessed Labour’s interim leader to launch into a jeremiad against millionaires, his well-coined would-be successor wound up with a dagger in his back.
The scene was First Minister’s Questions, yesterday. Enter stage Left, Mr Rowley, with an apparent broadside against Miss Sturgeon’s record on child poverty. But was there skullduggery afoot? Was the Nationalist empress perhaps not his real target? Rowley suddenly shifted his droning vocals to the Scottish Government’s planned cut to air passenger duty. Before anyone could register the switch, the unsuspecting Mr Sarwar had a shiv in him.
‘Every single time the SNP has a tax decision to make it sides with the millionaires rather than the millions.’
For a dizzying moment, seconds but it felt longer, the debating chamber froze, heckles silent, breaths held. And then Nicola Sturgeon lunged, brought to her feet by instinct and the rumble-thunder-bang of rising laughter as MSPs grasped what Mr Rowley had done. It may have been an innocent slip-up; Mr Rowley is not a seasoned parliamentary performer. It may have been something else. Mr Rowley has the wit of minor 1970s union bruiser but he also has the cunning.
‘I really thought it was unfair of Alex Rowley to personalise this debate by bringing Anas Sarwar into it,’ mewed the First Minister, grinning like the cat who hadn’t so much got the cream as been handed the keys to the creamery.
For those happy few unversed in the tribulations of Scottish Labour, the party is undergoing a leadership contest pitting Mr Sarwar, hitherto a critic of Jeremy Corbyn, against loyal Left-winger Richard Leonard, an MSP for Central Scotland. Mr Sarwar is also a millionaire and his family firm has been accused of failing to pay staff the real living wage. Miss Sturgeon has made much of this. When her would-be opposite number bragged that he had parked his tanks on her lawn, she riposted: ‘If he could mow it occasionally, it’d save Peter Murrell [her husband] a job. I’ll even pay him the real living wage.’
She may be a hidebound separatist hellbent on breaking up our country but the woman knows how to turn a line.
‘We will try to refrain from personal attacks in the chamber; it is only fair,’ Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh chided. He always sounds like a kindly old headmaster who has done away with the cane but can’t work out why the children are swinging from the light shades.
Anas Sarwar’s candidacy is now surely slain. ‘Ambition should be made of sterner stuff,’ I suppose, and his firm’s employment practices are fair game if he’s going to preach the virtues of socialism. There will be a few cynical souls who raise an eyebrow at Alex Rowley championing fairness in politics. His daughter Danielle, who just so happens to be running Richard Leonard’s leadership campaign, became a Labour MP in June at the fortuitous age of 27. But Alex Rowley says Anas Sarwar is a millionaire and Alex Rowley is an honourable man.
Mind you, if Mr Sarwar thinks he has problems, he should consider the plight of Nationalist backbencher John Mason. Minutes before FMQs, he brought a grievous scandal to the attention of MSPs. ‘Last week,’ he intoned with all the gravity of Walter Cronkite reporting the Kennedy assassination, ‘I bought an article of clothing — a jersey — on the Royal Mile and was not charged for the bag. That has happened to me several times in my constituency when I have been shopping. Does the minister have any concern that there is a bit of non-adherence to the legislation?’
SNP minister Paul Wheelhouse strove to keep a straight face: ‘I wish Mr Mason luck with his new jersey. I hope that it is an attractive one.’ Social media wags were less forgiving. As one noted acidly: ‘He’s the first Scotsman in history to whinge about saving five pence.’
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.