That’s how far Nicola Sturgeon got into her Programme for Government speech before the I-word cropped up: ‘The best future for Scotland lies in becoming an independent country.’ And here I thought the BBC was cracking down on repeats.
Independence got no further, though. No date, no time, no demand for Indyref 2.
Not that her backbenchers noticed. They were too busy huddled over shared copies of her programme, skimming as she delivered it. (After all, they had to know which bits to pretend to be excited about.)
Another constitutional mare loomed over the First Minister’s plans: the UK’s departure from the EU, pending rather than impending at Mrs May’s pace.
‘In the shadow of Brexit’, the First Minister intoned ominously, as if it was a made-for-television film with Sally Field on the run from Jacob Rees-Mogg and his chlorinated chickens.
Sturgeon’s performance was for occasional viewers, not diehard fans. A pillar of beige, the First Minister assumed the mantle of bland managerialism and pledged to protect Scotland from villainous Westminster and its Brexiting ways.
Not by supporting a second referendum on Brexit, mind. After all, what kind of democrat would she be if she backed another constitutional vote just a few years after losing the last one?
The SNP chief had a cunning plan to dodge all these awkward questions: she went on a spending spree.
An extra £7billion for infrastructure. Ker-ching! Another £600million for broadband. Ker-ching! £750million for the attainment fund. 750 new nurseries. 50,000 affordable homes. It’s a wonder the national credit card is still in one piece.
Five new NHS treatment centres would specialise in major traumas, such as getting knifed by your best friend and blamed for all the problems that started when she was health secretary.
And to prove that she remains in touch with those odd, inscrutable creatures her advisers keep calling ‘voters’, the First Minister’s programme committed to banning smacking, reforming the law on gender recognition and amending the census to record everyone’s ‘transgender status’. Other than Tasering harassed mums who swat their recalcitrant offspring in the pick’n’mix aisle and teaching the nation’s grannies that there are some things even queerer than folk, the big plan is to open a few more ‘Scottish Government offices’ around the world.
Paris and Ottawa would join Dublin and Berlin in getting new branches of Sturgeon Inc. She’s in more cities than Best Western.
Most of these set-ups are glorified broom closets. We’d be opening an embassy in Canberra, too, but Shane from Airbnb backed out.
Anyway, all perfectly justifiable. It’s not as if foreign affairs are reserved to Westminster or anything.
And finally, more good news: a fresh section of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) would open this weekend.
Sturgeon almost got away with her First Minister at Work routine. Then Ruth Davidson heaved to her sensibly-shoed feet. She has the glow of a pregnant woman and the homicidal urges of a seven-months pregnant woman.
Volleying jibes like a ninja throwing stars, she dismissed Sturgeon’s programme as ‘not a relaunch but a retread’, requiring a ‘gritter-load of salt’ and evidence of ‘kneejerk, backside-covering, just-in-time-ism’. She’s snarking for two now.
Sturgeon got up to defend herself on education but Davidson growled: ‘Don’t you dare’, before delivering a drubbing to the SNP’s record on schools.
The Nationalist front bench winced. No wonder they want to ban spanking.
Before parliament wrapped up for the day, Sturgeon snuck back into the chamber and asked to correct the record. It turned out the AWPR wasn’t reopening to traffic this weekend. It was hosting a family fun day.
The First Minister must have swung by the painting booth. Her face was scarlet.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at email@example.com. Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.