Ratting on your colleagues is a daily hazard at Holyrood but it’s not every day you see a First Minister brief against herself. Nicola Sturgeon breezed into FMQs and outlined plans to shut a lane of the £1.35billion Queensferry Crossing for repairs.
Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie asked when ministers learned the bridge would close. Close? gasped Miss Sturgeon. Who suggested it was going to close?
Instead, she explained: ‘The bridge will not be closed. For a period of five days, southbound traffic will go over the existing Forth Road Bridge.’ Bonnie and Clyde didn’t rob banks; bundles of cash were simply transferred from safes to the back seat of a Ford V8.
So the bridge that was closing wasn’t closing — it just wasn’t going to be open. I can’t be sure who is prepping the First Minister for FMQs these days but I’m glad Donald Rumsfeld is still getting work.
Mr Rennie accused the SNP leader of pedantry but it was sophistry. She could not concede that the crossing she opened to much fanfare, boasting it was ‘the greatest bridge in the world’ (in your face, Isambard Kingdom Brunel), was being shuttered after just 93 days because it already needed repairs.
It was once asked of Richard Nixon, ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’ If you bought a used car from Nicola Sturgeon, you’d spend an hour delayed on the Forth Road Bridge before the wheels had a chance to fall off.
Needless to say, none of this was her fault. It was ‘snagging’ that was to blame, which is at least an improvement on ‘Westminster’. ‘Anybody who has ever moved into a new house knows that snagging is required on construction projects,’ the First Minister tried. This is true though such ‘snagging’ usually involves resealing a window frame or getting a ceiling fan replaced, not kipping in a sleeping bag in the neighbours’ driveway for five nights.
The First Minister exuded exquisite tedium with the matter, waving away questions with waffle about road tolerance and wind forecasts. I suppose you don’t have to worry about bridges when you can walk on water.
Just when she thought the worst was over, MSPs pressed her for answers about a troubled Highland project that is slow, unimpressive and consistently fails to deliver. As Miss Sturgeon began to search her folder for the tab marked ‘Ian Blackford’, it became clear the inquisitors were instead asking about superfast broadband, which under the SNP is neither fast nor particularly super.
Readers in rural Scotland who rely on the internet to keep up to speed with world events will be excited to hear the royal engagement news. Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton in 2010 and they’re now happily married. Oh, and we’re leaving the EU. On the Northern Isles, there is only 65% connectivity. Thousands of Orcadians yearn for the day they too can block Pete Wishart on Twitter.
Here Miss Sturgeon reverted to her favourite bogeyman, monstering Westminster’s failures in broadband provision. ‘It’s just snagging,’ cried a Tory wag, and the First Minister was drowned in guffaws.
These people get paid for this. What a gig. Splurge a billion on a bridge, close it again three months later, and no one takes you aside and quietly suggests a career change. When Donald Dewar announced ‘There shall be a Scottish Parliament,’ he could only have imagined the heights it would scale: A government that has found a way to uninvent the internet and a First Minister who reads out Met Office advice like a passive-aggressive Wincey Willis.
The longer you observe Holyrood close up, three things become clearer: 1) It’s a racket. 2) It’s an expensive racket. 3) You could replace half the members with untrained chihuahuas and actually raise the level of debate.
The First Minister, drawing on her extensive expertise as an engineer, assured parliament there would be no further closures on the Queensferry Crossing. What if maintenance crews uncover more ‘snags’ that need fixed? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Expect diversions.
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