It was around 10 o’clock yesterday morning when a strange orb of light appeared over the summit of Arthur’s Seat.
The mercury simmered to a balmy 18 degrees, Scottish Parliament catering staff wheeled a barbecue out to the garden, and sweltering MSPs cleared a freezerful of ice cream.
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay sought the cooler climes of the reflecting pool, watching people toss coins into the giant hole in the ground. Not that different from being in the office, after all.
The Holyrood heatwave had everyone in a sunny mood. Then the clock struck noon and a glum cloud descended on the debating chamber. The shadowy pall had been summoned by Ruth Davidson, who brought a crease of thunder to the First Minister’s face with an impertinent question:
‘No representative of the Scottish Conservative Party or consultant who works for it has ever met the disgraced data-harvesting company Cambridge Analytica… Can the First Minister say the same about the Scottish Government and the SNP?’
The First Minister couldn’t say the same and so she said a whole garble of other things about MoD contracts, secret documents and Donald Trump. It was like one of those Facebook threads that starts off LOLing at a cat dancing the Macarena and concludes 127 comments later with ‘WELL, YOU TELL ME WHAT THEY’RE HIDING AT AREA 51, SHARON.’
Sturgeon was backed into a corner by her party’s sanctimony. When news of data-harvesting broke, SNP MPs seized the opportunity to grandstand about the dodgy firm’s work for Vote Leave, not knowing the Nationalists had enquired after its services too. That was different, mind. The SNP met with Cambridge Analytica but they did it social democratically.
For once, the First Minister didn’t say it was all Westminster’s fault. This time the blame lay two counties over in Oxfordshire. She had done some Jessica Fletchering and uncovered a secret link between Cambridge Analytica and the Tory Party.
Try to follow: Cambridge Analytica is registered as a subsidiary of SCL Group Ltd and someone who used to run SCL Group Ltd also used to be a chairman of the Oxford West and Abingdon Conservative Association.
As everyone knows, the machinery of the deep state operates out of the back room of the Abingdon community hall, sneaking Stella Rimington past the weekly Women’s Institute bake sale and hoping the caretaker doesn’t open the cupboard where they’re hiding Lord Lucan.
It wasn’t so much a smoking gun as a leaky water pistol. It was, however, the closest thing the First Minister had to a link between the Tories and Cambridge Analytica. That is until the National digs up a Ladbrokes slip showing Ruth Davidson bet against Oxford in the boat race last year.
Timbre climbing as her frustration grew, Sturgeon scolded the opposition leader for even posing these questions and helpfully provided a list of topics she’d be more comfortable discussing. She thinks FMQs should operate like her weekly Cabinet meetings where she asks the questions, supplies the answers and tells them what they think about all the new shows on Amazon Prime.
Just surviving her encounter with Ruth Davidson and no more, the First Minister might have hoped for an easier tangle with the Scottish Labour leader.
Ey oop! What was this? Richard Leonard was ladling out plain-speaking like gravy on Yorkshire puddings. He rounded on Health Secretary Shona Robison and said it was time she was sacked over the NHS Tayside scandal.
Sturgeon touted all the steps her government had taken in response to the health board’s financial woes.
‘Yes, First Minister, but none of the steps have worked,’ Mr Leonard came back, quietly but devastating.
After the FM insisted everything was just dandy in the NHS, Sandra White revealed that Yorkhill minor injuries unit was to be shut down within 24 hours. The SNP backbencher had learned the fate of her local hospital in a press release.
Over Nicola Sturgeon’s head, the cloud grew darker still.