The debating chamber was a-bustle all around her but to Nicola Sturgeon it felt like an interrogation room. One of those pokey, smoke-fugged jobs, lit only by a bare bulb swinging from the Artex. Something straight out of The Sweeney.
Ruth Davidson turned up for First Minister’s Questions doing her best impression of a no-nonsense copper. She wanted answers about reports of looming cuts to Police Scotland. As many as 1,200 job losses had been touted. Sturgeon denied this but wouldn’t give a precise number. A hostile witness, then.
DI Davidson persevered: ‘This week, we learned that 872 charges, which included firearms offences, drug dealing and child sex crimes, had to be dropped last year because police reports were filled in too late. When action is dropped against hundreds of suspects in cases as serious as those, and it is all down to officers being overworked, under pressure and flooded by paperwork, it is clear that something is very wrong.’
Apparently not. It was ‘regrettable’, the First Minister allowed, as if 872 people had stubbed their toe rather than been left high and dry by the justice system.
The Tory leader shot back: ‘I am sure that victims of crime who did not see those crimes being prosecuted will have been delighted to hear the answer that the First Minister has just given, about how little the crimes against them matter to her.’
Sturgeon made it through her grilling — just barely — but questions over police numbers aren’t going away any time soon. It’s yet another area where her government is unravelling.
Elsewhere, the Scottish Secretary had been at Holyrood in the morning giving evidence on the Brexit Bill. ‘I’m sad to say that I did not have the opportunity to watch David Mundell,’ Sturgeon smirked, like an extra from Mean Girls. Afterwards, a source close to the Secretary of State riposted: ‘We understand the First Minister is very busy at the moment. She never knows when the next crisis will pop up in the NHS, Police Scotland, or her number one priority, education.’
Amid the knockabout, a sombre moment. Richard Leonard told the story of David Ramsay. The 50-year-old tried to end his life three times in one week. Twice he went for help. Twice he was turned away. Four days later, he went out to walk the dog. His body was found later that day.
In Dundonian David’s home city, the suicide rate rose 61 per cent last year and his family has pleaded for a public inquiry. ‘Why has the First Minister’s government remained silent on this crisis and silent on the demand for a public inquiry?’ Mr Leonard asked.
A stillness fell. Even the most partisan Nationalist daren’t mutter or grumble. Heads nodded respectfully. MSPs are people too, with families and troubles, and across the chamber the same thought was almost audible: ‘There but for the grace of God’.
The sober mood was smashed with a crude thud minutes later. Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs quizzed Sturgeon on safety concerns about her baby boxes.
The First Minister, summoning all the dignity and stature of her office, spat: ‘What is it about the baby box that so offends the Conservatives? Is it just because it’s SNP policy? Or is it because it’s giving state support to families when the Tory preference is always to take that away from families? Or is it because we haven’t insisted on a rape clause for eligibility?’
It is the kind of thing Donald Trump would start to tweet then think better of it.
Before FMQs, Nationalist backbencher Clare Haughey buttonholed the tourism minister on why more wasn’t being done to promote ‘the fantastic tourist attractions in my constituency’. Her constituency is Rutherglen, which boasts, she enthused, ‘parks and cycle trails and the place where William Wallace was betrayed, to name but a few’.
Beat that, Great Wall of China.