All that was missing was the empty bowl and the raggedy mite mumbling, ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard forwent the conventional Q&A format of First Minister’s Questions in favour of an amateur dramatics production of Oliver Twist. Attempting to pin down Nicola Sturgeon on the future of local government financing, Mr Leonard grubbied up his face and pleaded with the beadle of Bute House to think of the children before cutting too harshly.
He described a visit to a community centre in Fife where he met charitable youngsters who were giving up their free time to help those less fortunate.
Continuing like the narrator of a penny dreadful, the Labour leader evoked grim scenes of penury: ‘They were sorting parcels for needy families for Christmas. The parcels included winter coats, scarves and gloves to be delivered to families who are living in abject poverty. That is the reality of Tory Britain, and the reality of SNP Scotland…
‘It is a Dickensian Scotland, where too many families are forced to turn to food banks, and where schoolchildren are dispatching emergency parcels to help their classmates at Christmas.’
While no one would doubt the very real problem of poverty, Mr Leonard’s turn made it sound as though the entire country was one misplaced farthing away from the workhouse. Eventually, he would be forced to lead a band of impish pilferers through the smog-choked streets of Scotland, liberating merchants of their watches, all the while warbling ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’. Mind you, if you’ve read his tax plans, it’s not entirely clear he isn’t doing this already.
Mr Leonard has had a good start at First Minister’s Questions but he is falling into the trap of confusing wordy questions for powerful ones. Miss Sturgeon is a high priestess of evasion and obfuscation and as such welcomes verbose enquiries. Short, sharp interrogatives, however, would have a better chance of throwing her off her pace.
We were soon swept away from the mean streets of very late Victorian Scotland to the unforgiving deserts of the Middle East. The night before, Donald Trump had issued a proclamation recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Former rising star Anas Sarwar urged the First Minister to condemn President Trump, which she had already done, and to press the UK Government to condemn him too, which it had already done.
There are few sights to conjure a cringe quite like the Scottish Parliament discussing international relations. It’s like supping a pint down the bowling club and suddenly a debate on post-structuralism breaks out. It’s not just that most MSPs are out of their depth; they are soul-shrivellingly earnest about it, intoning with the gravity of a teenager practising their class talk on the ozone layer in the bathroom mirror.
Still the First Minister jumped at the chance: ‘The decision that Donald Trump took on Jerusalem was reckless, wrong and a real threat to peace in the Middle East… The status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and ultimately, of course, Jerusalem should be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.’
Miss Sturgeon, Henry Kissinger in high heels, regaled the chamber with her blueprint for solving peace in the Middle East. The First Minister wants to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians, which is ambitious when she can’t even bridge the gap between North and South Queensferry.
Closer to home, Willie Rennie urged Miss Sturgeon to back a second referendum on the final terms of the Brexit deal. She wouldn’t be drawn on that, which would involve taking a position on something difficult, and so, clutching desperately for an answer — any answer — she lambasted Westminster and concluded: ‘The sooner we are in control of our own future here in Scotland the better.’
Take back control. Where have we heard that before?
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.