To Holyrood for First Minister’s Questions, where there is a distinct lack of a First Minister.
In her place sits John Swinney. Zimbabweans have ousted Robert Mugabe after a long, colourful tyranny. Could a military coup have claimed our own snazzily-dressed megalomaniac?
Nicola Sturgeon would be blissfully unaware if there were tanks in the streets of Edinburgh. She’s been off on a German jaunt to the United Nations climate conference in Bonn, where she announced more than £300,000 for a ‘Gender Action Plan’ to increase representation of women in the fight against greenhouse gasses. To think we’ve been wasting all this money tackling global warming with windmills and low-energy lightbulbs when the real culprit was too many men in lab coats.
Given Mr Swinney’s performance yesterday, Miss Sturgeon might be onto something preferring women in the workplace. The Deputy First Minister, a scowl in a suit, is usually reliable as a wall of bluster. The very existence of other political parties seems to offend him and he takes alternative points of view as a provocation. Since the SNP came to government, he has reinvented himself as ‘Honest John’, the boring bank manager you can trust. Those with longer memories will recall his ill-starred time at the helm of the party when he was Angry John, the bespectacled Braveheart who rallied the SNP faithful with cries of ‘tell the Brits to get off’.
It was Angry John who turned up for FMQs. Ruth Davidson reminded him that he guaranteed basic-rate payers before the Holyrood elections that their taxes wouldn’t go up. Would he keep that promise? Mr Swinney chose his words carefully: ‘The Scottish Government is engaged in dialogue and discussion with the public… to consider the steps that we should take on taxation.’
‘Aw,’ snorted the Tory leader. ‘That was a bit lacklustre.’ God, she’s evil.
Mr Swinney knew she was goading him and he tried to keep the head. Miss Davidson dug a little deeper under his skin: ‘The truth is that the SNP wheeled out Mr Swinney — Honest John — before the election to tell people that their taxes would not go up, but as soon as the party got back in, those promises turned to dust.’
The confidence drained from Mr Swinney. The bank manager had invested everyone’s savings in an exciting opportunity run by a Nigerian prince and the customers were on the verge of finding out. Miss Davidson would not be denied her scalp and went personal: ‘There was once a time when he and Alex Salmond used to preach the merits of competitive taxation. Now, Mr Swinney takes his directions from Derek Mackay and Mr Salmond takes his from Mr Putin. How the mighty have fallen.’
That did it. Angry John roared to life, his timbre thunderous and his complexion a flash of cerise. ‘The only sad thing is Ruth Davidson’s miserable contribution to First Minister’s question time. That is what is sad. Week in, week out, we have that miserable contribution to the debate about the future of Scotland. The government takes the serious decisions about our country’s future and will leave Ruth Davidson weeping in the opposition benches.’
Down sat Miss Davidson with a smile of satisfaction, an assassin who had got her mark.
Willie Rennie picked up the Putin thread. Was Alex Salmond, now a host on the Russian autocrat’s propaganda channel, a fit and proper person to buy the Scotsman? Mr Swinney came to Kremlin Eck’s defence, pointing out the former First Minister had invited Labour and Tory guests on his show. According to Tovarich Swinney, the sin wasn’t Scotland’s reputation being bought and sold for Moscow gold but ‘the stinking reek of hypocrisy’ from those complaining about it.
Yesterday was the debut of the Alex Salmond Show. It played like a vaguely sinister episode of Newsround, complete with a Jerry Springer style ‘final thoughts’ monologue and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh as a roving reporter. Whatever the Kremlin is paying for this, it’s paying too much.
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