John Donne said no man was an island. He didn’t live to see the past few weeks of Shona Robison’s career, which are starting to look like the last few weeks of her career.
The Health Secretary was a pale sketch of doleful isolation at First Minister’s Questions yesterday. As foe upon foe rose to demand her sacking, she gave no sigh or head-shake or roll of the eye.
Beside her, Nicola Sturgeon was up and down like a pogo stick with a briefing folder, defending her minister from the onslaught. Robison is her friend but Sturgeon is her boss and both know that, sooner or later, the dagger will have to be taken up. Anyone who thinks being stabbed in the back is the worst experience in politics has never waited patiently to be knifed in the front.
Richard Leonard shunted the shiv a few inches forward. The Labour leader queried if the First Minister knew how many ambulances took more than an hour to respond to a 999 call last year. She didn’t and steeled herself for the answer. A couple of hundred? A few thousand, tops.
‘16,865.’ Sturgeon winced. Her backbenchers hushed; they thought she’d already cured the lepers and made the blind see. Mercifully, the First Minister forwent her usual response that those patients should count themselves lucky; in England their ambulance would’ve been attacked by a pack of wolves en route to the hospital.
Worse, Mr Leonard had brought along a terminally ill woman who waited two hours for an ambulance, eventually took the car to hospital, and didn’t see a doctor until the next morning.
Mr Leonard said the Health Secretary should be fired. Willie Rennie agreed. Neil Findlay too. That old Kirk Douglas movie had been turned on its head as MSPs pointed to Robison and proclaimed: ‘She is Spartacus’. The drama was palpable.
The Health Secretary kept her head up, lips pursed, eyes fixed on an imaginary point of interest straight ahead. You become familiar with that stare over time. It’s a stare of defeat, not defiance. Robison is on political life support and she is aware the First Minister could pull the plug any time.
Mind you, the SNP leader had her own worries. Ruth Davidson asked why she rejected a deal with the UK Government on the Brexit Bill. Whereupon we were treated to a farrago of fright from the First Minister: Westminster would seize control of farms, force us to grow GM crops, and put a chlorinated chicken in every pot. We would all become obese and before you knew it, old ladies would be fighting stray dogs for a swig of Frosty Jack’s behind the church hall.
Such fears seem not to burden the Welsh Government which came to an agreement with Westminster. Davidson quoted a Welsh minister saying ‘compromise’ was ‘the art of negotiation’. A Nationalist MSP hooted: ‘It’s the art of capitulation’. It seems Wales is talking down Scotland now, too. A boycott of leeks and Ryan Giggs is surely on the cards. George Square will be kindling a pyre of Max Boyce LPs before the week’s out.
‘For once, will you do a deal in the national interest and not your Nationalist interest?’ Davidson snapped in exasperation. She actually pronounced it ‘yurr Nationalist interest’ because the Tory leader becomes more Scottish the angrier she gets.
Ashten Regan-Denham, MSP for Downton Abbey North, broke out her manicured vowels in aid of the First Minister. She posed a question on Brexit so well planted it could have come straight from Homebase. Sturgeon was most pleased.
Exactly 30 minutes after telling parliament the Brexit Bill could stop Holyrood addressing alcoholism, Sturgeon outlined her government’s plans for tackling the drink and drug culture. John Mason said the problems were acute in the East End of Glasgow.
The First Minister assured him: ‘I see it in my own constituency.’ They must be slowing down the limo in Govanhill these days.