As Kezia Dugdale was put through her paces on I’m a Celebrity, her successor Richard Leonard, salt-of-the-earth Yorkshireman, was making his debut at First Minister’s Questions.
Miss Dugdale found herself crawling through a tunnel of fish guts deep in the Australian jungle. Fish guts? Luxury! Richard Leonard could only dream of having a tunnel of fish guts to crawl through.
Instead he was tasked with getting a straight answer out of Nicola Sturgeon, a feat far more daunting than any televised encounter with Antipodean yuckies. But you try telling that to the young ones today and they won’t believe you…
Choosing a son of God’s Own Country as their leader might be the best move Scottish Labour has made in years. If nothing else, they have made FMQs instantly more compelling.
Mr Leonard’s lively northern register burst into a chamber dull with the flat tones of central belt banality. Nary a ‘t’ was pronounced and definite articles just got out of his way. These earthy cadences rendered Mr Leonard’s every word thoroughly reasonable.
He could have called for Scottish Blend to be nationalised and renamed North Yorkshire Tea and got a decent show of hands for it.
Our lad waxed instead about firefighters, whom he had joined in their rally outside Holyrood that morning. He trilled: ‘Those heroic firefighters have seen more than 700 front line jobs axed and they have watched their pay being cut in real terms year upon year. They see a service that is in decline. Will the First Minister explain why, on her watch, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has been cut?’
Nicola Sturgeon explained that, actually, everything was fine in Scotland but you ought to take a gander at the state of things in Wales. Utter shambles, it is.
If Miss Sturgeon ever goes on Mastermind, her specialist subject will be the internal workings of Welsh Labour politics. It fascinates her and rarely does a session of FMQs go by without the First Minister responding to a question about her government’s failings with an exciting update on the goings on at Cardiff Bay.
Mr Leonard reckoned this a mardy answer. ‘Appen the First Minister had seen the Fire Brigades Union poster about cuts to the service? ‘The people of Scotland will have to make up their minds who they believe: The firefighters on the front line or the First Minister on the side line.’
His words carried the sharp bite of a well-spiced parkin and the First Minister was left with indigestion. She tried haughty, dismissing the Labour leader’s question as ‘rambling’, but he had the fiery indignation of a brazier-hugging picketer, protesting her dismal record on council funding, inequality and poverty.
It all sounded like a highly political episode of Emmerdale but Mr Leonard’s common touch got the better of a cold, technocratic First Minister.
Indeed, the only sign of animation from Miss Sturgeon yesterday came in a bizarre flare-up at Ruth Davidson over the Budget.
The Tory boss taunted: ‘Only this First Minister could be handed an extra £2billion in spending power and still sound like somebody has stolen her scone.’
Miss Sturgeon snapped: ‘If I was a Tory these days, I would not be standing up in parliament and talking about scones, given the number of Scottish families who are being forced to food banks because of the policies of the Tory government.’
Living in an Edinburgh hotel is enough to divorce the best of us from everyday life but the First Minister really doesn’t understand how a food bank works. People go to pick up pasta and rice, not to peruse the fine offerings in the pâtisserie.
Sergeant Sturgeon, Tone Police, should prescribe a list of culinary unmentionables for future reference. Croissants would be a no-no because of Brexit, Spanish omelettes too triggering for friends of Catalonia.
Far more objectionable was Ruth Davidson’s pronunciation of scone, which she said as ‘scone’ when all right-minded people know it’s ‘scone’.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.