WILLIE: You lied!
NICOLA: You’re a pathetic attention seeker!
KEN: Leave it out, the pair of you!
Bit early for EastEnders, I thought, checking my watch. No, this was First Minister’s Questions, from the hallowed chamber of the nation’s parliament, and Nicola Sturgeon was in the middle of a slanging match that would get her barred from the Queen Vic.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie had pulled her up over the decision to close the children’s ward at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley. Mr Rennie said the First Minister had ‘lied’ before the election, promising the ward would stay open.
Accusing another member of lying is the ultimate parliamentary no-no but before Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh could get an admonishing word in, bedlam erupted. The gale of invective that stormed its way across the Nationalist benches would have knocked a lesser man off his feet but Mr Rennie stood his ground.
The First Minister, crackling with fury, brayed that the Lib Dem leader was ‘a pathetic attention-seeker’. A pin-drop silence gripped the room, broken when a chorus of ‘oooooooh’ rang from the Labour and Tory benches. Scotland’s most senior politicians were seconds away from challenging each other to dog double geography and fight down the precinct. Two dozen schoolchildren, watching in the public gallery, looked aghast.
The Presiding Officer, a mild-mannered sort, had finally had enough. He took Mr Rennie to task, prompting a cacophony of approval from the SNP backbenches, then rebuked Miss Sturgeon, whereupon their gull-like cawing strangled into a vowel-torturing bellow. For those wondering what the mating call of the common Nationalist hypocrite sounds like, it’s roughly eyyyhhhhh…oooiiihhh…waaaawwww!
The more the SNP heckled the Presiding Officer, the heartier the table-banging from the Tories. There are more edifying exchanges at chucking out time in the less salubrious taverns of Glasgow’s East End.
Miss Sturgeon regained composure to present herself as a victim of circumstance over the RAH. The First Minister, Florence Nightingale in reverse, is turning out the lamps at Paisley’s children’s ward but it’s not her fault. It was those beastly doctors who told her it was the best thing to do.
Hold on, where was local MSP George Adam, the self-proclaimed ‘Mr Paisley’ who stands up for Buddies? Before the last Holyrood poll, he assured the town that ‘the Children’s Ward will continue to treat Paisley’s children’ and accused Labour of ‘drumming up scare stories’. Now he squirmed on the back row like a panicky otter surrounded by sharks and running out of options. Buddies, can you spare me a spine?
(Impressively, this wasn’t even Mr Adam’s finest moment of the day. That came later, during the debate on the Offensive Behaviour Act, when he insisted that songs about things other than football shouldn’t be sung at soccer grounds. I couldn’t tell whether his colleagues were suddenly tapping away at their phones in embarrassment or hastily drafting a new verse of Flower of Scotland about indirect free kicks.)
Elsewhere, Ruth Davidson had a go at the SNP chief over fresh evidence about Michael Matheson’s role in deciding the future of chief constable Phil Gormley. The Justice Secretary insists he didn’t lean on the police watchdog to block an early return to duty for Mr Gormley. It was a coincidence they decided not to do the thing they were going to do until he told them it was a bad thing to do.
Scottish Labour is calling for Mr Matheson to resign. Given his track record he already might have and they just forgot to minute it.