Telt! The day Mr Nice Guy snapped at Nicola

Remember that terribly progressive teacher at school? The one who insisted you call him by his first name and worried that homework might be a human rights violation? 

Ken Macintosh is the trendy teacher of the Scottish Parliament. As Presiding Officer, it’s his job to keep order but he just can’t bring himself to stamp his authority on the chamber.

Bedlam can break out and Mr Macintosh will clear his throat and politely call for calm, unheard amidst the cacophony of bellowing, table-thumping, and throat-ripping raging around him.

The Nationalist benches, the problem pupils of the class, take every advantage. A favourite ruse is tossing a soft question to Nicola Sturgeon that has nothing to do with her role as First Minister but gives her an opportunity to get stuck into the opposition. These usually begin ‘Does the First Minister agree’, list the many iniquities of the Tories/Westminster/Brexit, and end ‘and this is why Holyrood needs more powers’.

Ivan McKee tried his luck yesterday and finally — finally — Ken Macintosh snapped.

The Nationalist backbencher brayed that Scottish Tory MPs who want a hard Brexit ‘take their marching orders from Jacob Rees-Mogg, not Ruth Davidson’. Did the First Minister agree that these Tories were a bunch of wrong’uns?

The Presiding Officer sounded sceptical. This was ‘not massively a question for the First Minister’.

‘Is Brexit not a question for me?’ Sturgeon piped up, her voice one octave too sharp. Heads buried in phones suddenly bobbed up.

The Presiding Officer’s tone chilled. The First Minister could respond briefly but, come on, there was another Brexit question — one that was actually a question — coming up in a few minutes.

‘With the greatest respect, I think that Brexit is very much a matter for the First Minister,’ she shot back. On the opposition benches, knowing glances were exchanged. She’s not used to being told No.

The First Minister’s backchat provoked a rare reprimand from the mild-mannered Mr Macintosh. He lunged for the button that activates his microphone and rebuked the SNP leader in a terser register than we are used to hearing from him.

‘The question was phrased about Conservative MPs, and I do not believe that you are responsible for them, First Minister. You will have a chance to answer the question in a few minutes.’

And with that, he called another MSP, leaving Sturgeon to resume her seat. ‘Telt,’ as her admirers like to say.

It was not the First Minister’s finest performance. On the plus side, it was better than Richard Leonard. The Labour leader had come with what he evidently reckoned was a killer question: Where was the First Minister’s plan to recruit nursery workers for her extra childcare pledge?

Sturgeon promptly rattled off a plethora of schemes that were busy hiring. Awkward.

This was just an ‘avalanche of statistics’, Mr Leonard huffed, barely a minute after requesting said statistics. The SNP benches couldn’t decide whether to gasp in disbelief or cackle at the absurdity of it.

It was too late for Mr Leonard now. Nicola Sturgeon went in for the kill. She wielded her smoky citrine specs like a Ginsu knife, jabbing her rebuttal home until Mr Leonard was well and truly filleted.

The Labour leader made a creditable debut at FMQs and there was a certain wicked delight in watching Saint Nicola’s social justice halo dunted off by the brazier-bothering union man.

Since then, he has flopped week after week with windy wanders that recall Neil Kinnock’s rambling queries to Margaret Thatcher. No matter what difficulty Maggie was in, her despatch box adversary would helpfully bury it in verbal quicksand.

Like Lord Kinnock, Richard Leonard is a decent sort but he’ll never get anywhere until he realises FMQs isn’t a debate — it’s a prosecution. Go in hard, keep it simple, show no mercy. If Mr Leonard was prosecuting, the jury would vote to send themselves down.

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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0, cropped.

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