She walked into the parly like she was walking onto a yacht.
A cerulean streak of polyester cut a businesslike stride to the First Minister’s seat. There enthroned she exuded the easy confidence of a star arrived on the lot, ready for her close-up, and keen to remind these B-listers why she was still top billing.
Nicola Sturgeon could carry herself with cool poise for this was to be her week. The Tories were busy garrotting one another with angling wire over the Common Fisheries Policy. Scottish Labour had dispatched another councillor to ‘diversity training’ after obnoxious comments about Humza Yousaf. (Given the party is currently at war with Jews, Muslims, Blarities, their own council leaders, and the Newsnight graphics desk, I’d say they’ve got the diversity bit down just fine.)
In a few unforgiving minutes, the First Minister’s best chance in weeks unravelled. Ruth Davidson had come armed with figures. Why, she wondered, had millions for improving education gone unspent? It was an ongoing commitment, Sturgeon essayed; ‘any money that is not spent in one year rolls forward to the next year’. The Attainment Fund was just resting in her account.
Betting fans will be keen to learn the First Minister eventually got round to explaining that schools were much worse in England. Whoever had 9 minutes and 31 seconds should meet Jackson Carlaw in the Garden Lobby to collect their winnings.
Where she really came undone was her encounter with Richard Leonard, the Yorkshire Tripper. He revived an earlier query about grafters on an SNP-funded infrastructure project being charged to access their wages.
The Scottish Labour leader has a queer power over the First Minister. She does not consider him a worthy opponent and his tendency to stumble over questions angers her so much it can force her to lose her own footing. Out comes one of her least appealing qualities: a teacherly tut that sounds like a wagging finger breaking the sound barrier.
‘This next bit is quite important,’ she intoned, ‘not just for people who are listening in the chamber but for those outside the chamber.’ Labour MSPs, finding themselves suddenly trapped in a particularly sanctimonious episode of Blue Peter, groaned.
Now that she had the attention of the class — she has all day you know, so you’re just eating into your own break time — the First Minister explained that the workers affected were being charged agency fees. ‘It is, of course, at the discretion of individual employees if they choose to work through an agency,’ she informed us with the chirpy certainty of someone who has been collecting a public sector salary for nigh on 20 years. Let them eat zero-hours contracts.
Nicola Sturgeon has been First Minister for three years — it only feels longer — but already she is showing symptoms of the Late Maggies. Impatient. Imperious. Impervious. At least the Iron Lady went a bit funny trying to defend a vast, transformative legacy. Sturgeon still hasn’t done anything and is losing the rag every time she’s reminded.
Willie Rennie was on the receiving end of a Sturgeoning for asking about her upcoming trip to China and whether she’d mention human rights. After all, she did try to strike a £10 billion deal with a Chinese mob whose humanitarian record made Robert Mugabe look like Mary Poppins.
‘I will tell members what I will not be doing in China: I will not be mentioning Willie Rennie,’ she pledged, oddly triumphant. Somewhere in the Beijing foreign ministry, an intern who’s just spent six months committing the history of Strathmiglo to memory wept stoically.
She would be talking up Scottish businesses because, provided they don’t flog biscuits in Union Jack tins, there’s nothing the SNP loves more than Scottish businesses. Mr Rennie — you’ll be shocked — was ‘talking down Scotland’.
‘I bow to nobody in my determination to play my part in promoting human rights internationally,’ the First Minister boasted. Well, nobody except the Chinese.