Nicola had the look of a cat who’d just sat on a porcupine

My granny used to tell us: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’

My granny didn’t live to see the Scottish Parliament so I reckon her injunction is moot. The carnival of mediocrity cranked up again yesterday and sputtered along for 45 eyelid-anchoring minutes of First Minister’s Questions.

Westminster boasts a playbill of characters, scoundrels, cranks and outright stars. There is colour on the green benches, for good or for ill. Holyrood, on the other hand, is dull in mind and presentation. Sure, there are your Ruth Davidsons and Humza Yousafs, but those IKEA knock-off benches positively heave with jumped-up social workers and over-promoted councillors.

Take yesterday’s FMQs. It was a bumper day for tree-huggers, with no fewer than eight questions about saving the planet, including two from Labour’s Claudia Beamish. Daughter of Tory peer Tufton Beamish, she sounds like Princess Anne reading Marxist slam poetry. The clipped-toned Corbynista — a Palestine lanyard draped around her neck, natch — urged Nicola Sturgeon to copy Jeremy Corbyn’s zero emissions target.

The First Minister had the look of a cat who’d just sat on a porcupine: eyes platter-wide, jaw hung in disbelieving gape. It would be tricky to adopt Corbyn’s 60 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, she explained, what with the SNP currently legislating for a 66 per cent cut by the same date.

A wicked twinkle shone in her eye: ‘They say that imitation is the finest form of flattery, and in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech there was certainly plenty that the Scottish Government has already done. I am glad to see Labour following in our wake.’

Scottish Labour’s alleged leader didn’t fare much better. Richard Leonard used to work as a trade union organiser and still speaks like one, downing words like he used to down tools. ‘The First Minister—’ thump ‘TALKS of protecting Scotland’s tourism—’ blam ‘INDUSTRY. Why—’ biff ‘WILL she not—’ bosh ‘ACT to protect Scotland’s local services, those very—’ whack ‘SERVICES that our—’ clout ‘TOURISM industry relies on?’

It’s a cadence that probably comes in handy when you have to bellow over roaring braziers and competing choruses of The Internationale but in the staid environs of the Scottish Parliament he sounds like someone trying to communicate to a non-English speaker by saying every other word ver…y slow…ly and VERY LOUD.

This week he was backing the SNP leader of Edinburgh City Council who wants to tax tourists for staying in the city’s hotels. Such bipartisanship is commendable until you remember this is a money-making ruse that even Derek Mackay, the Robin Hood of Renfrewshire, considers a bit brazen.

Leonard no doubt calculates that, since the Nationalists are likely to concede the tourist levy in budget negotiations with the Greens, he can eventually claim credit for the U-turn. Of course, by that point no one will remember what the shouty man in the red tie was shouting about three months ago.

Naturally, the Greens want a tourist tax, which fits in with their broader crusade against AirBnB, people who visit Edinburgh, and humanity in general. None of which should surprise us when it comes to a cult of druidical mushroom-worshippers but the curtain-twitching parochialism somewhat cuts against their we-are-the-world happy-clappy hippy routine.

Labour trainspotter Colin Smyth noted that ScotRail hadn’t been found in breach of its franchise agreement despite figures showing plummeting performance standards. As rail passengers have long suspected, there had been more fiddling than a Yiddish music revue; the Scottish Government, Smyth pointed out, had ‘secretly reduced its target without telling parliament’.

‘ScotRail’s public performance measure is better than the British average,’ Sturgeon trumpeted.

There’s not a lot of talent at Holyrood but our First Minister stands out. She can pat herself on the back while doing cartwheels around the truth.


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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0

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