If the Police Scotland saga were a Netflix series, it would now be in its tenth season and even diehard fans would be wondering if it was time to call it a day.
The current storyline has seen Chief Constable Phil Gormley accused of multiple misconduct, go on special leave, be told he was coming back to work, get placed back on special leave after the justice secretary intervened, and then resign his post. Police Scotland has seen more drama in five months than Taggart did in 25 years.
Ruth Davidson used First Minister’s Questions to declaim the most absurd twist of all — Michael Matheson was keeping his job. Surely it was time to take away his power to appoint the chair of the police watchdog. No, said Nicola Sturgeon, because that would require ‘primary legislation’. The Tory leader looked briefly nonplussed before sputtering: ‘This is a parliament. Changing the law is what we do.’
Labour’s Richard Leonard didn’t fare much better, not least because the Presiding Officer introduced him as Nationalist MSP Richard Lochhead. After Mr Leonard’s recent performances, you could see a few Labour MSPs weighing up a switch in their heads. Mr Leonard had the answer to all these problems: The Scottish Labour Review of Policing in Scotland. He held it aloft, like Moses down from Mount Sinai with one stone tablet and the wrong end of the stick. Of course, the review was commissioned in 2015 by since-purged Blairite running dog Kezia Dugdale. Mr Leonard campaigned to bring ‘real change’ but seems to have settled for whatever he can find down the back of the filing cabinet.
Patrick Harvie lobbed a rare toughie at the boss and asked about the US military’s use of Prestwick Airport.
Sturgeon, who had perhaps left her CND membership card at home yesterday, dismissed Peacenik Patrick, saying: ‘This is not new… This is the kind of work that happens at Prestwick. My mother is from Prestwick. My grandparents lived in Prestwick. We used to watch the flights on a Sunday afternoon.’
‘Was there nothing on the telly?’ Ruth Davidson zinged. John Swinney shot back: ‘They didn’t have televisions back then.’ That was brave of him. I hope whichever wing of the gulag he’s now in it’s at least a nice cell.
Sturgeon pressed on: ‘Those who are old enough will remember the day that Elvis Presley touched down at Prestwick airport. He was there because he was on his way home from national service, on a military plane that landed at Prestwick to refuel. That is not new and it is not a revelation. It is a load of bunkum.’
Bunkum is, of course, politician-speak for ‘true but difficult to prove’. Even so, you have to hand it to the First Minister. There she was, caught in a trap, couldn’t walk out, and she managed to dodge the question with a 58-year-old anecdote. Elvis may have been the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll but Nicola Sturgeon is the undisputed Queen of Spin.
The mood music around the First Minister was more psychedelic. An oversized cornflower brooch had come with Christine Grahame attached while Kenny Gibson was either sporting a striped fuschia tie or had arrived straight from a nasty encounter with a candy floss machine. I struggled to focus on the First Minister amid this omnichromatic assault and began to wonder if it was all part of the plan. While we shielded our eyes and rummaged around for sunglasses, Michael Matheson was probably being bundled out the back door.
Rachael Hamilton called for a crackdown on social media bile. The Tory MSP said there was no place for ‘trolling, online abuse and misogyny’ on Twitter, or as Sturgeon’s most fervent supporters call it, ‘Thursday night’. ‘I have certainly had a few insults along the way,’ piped up John Mason. Even Sturgeon could not contain a titter. The SNP backbencher once complained to parliament about a Royal Mile shop assistant who failed to charge him 5p for a carrier bag during a jersey-shopping expedition.
Social media isn’t the reason he gets insults.