Jackson Carlaw is a frightfully nice man who should not be allowed to dress himself.
Yesterday at Holyrood he turned up sporting a chartreuse tie that hinted at a second job as the night manager of an Elvis-themed Las Vegas wedding chapel. It wasn’t quite atomic green but Fin Carson might want to get himself checked for uranium poisoning.
Perhaps this neon strip was intended to stun Nicola Sturgeon. If so, it worked a charm. The First Minister was all at sea when Carlaw challenged her on Brexit and the fishing industry. Sturgeon scoffed and said Carlaw leading on that question was ‘an early Christmas present’ since ‘Tory pledges on fishing are not worth the paper that they are written on’.
It was a brave jibe for someone whose Growth Commission report was scribbled out on the back of a chip wrapper but she was just getting into her swing. Theresa May’s draft agreement on Brexit was ‘selling out Scottish fishermen’.
Carlaw and Sturgeon exchanged rival endorsements from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation — imagine the Judean People’s Front and People’s Front of Judea with discard quotas.
The First Minister pronounced shame upon her opponents, to which Carlaw quipped: ‘If shame was a currency, the First Minister’s pockets would be bursting.’
By now, he boasted the menacing puce demeanour of an overcooked ham. Between his face and his tie, we looked on the brink of a nuclear meltdown.
‘The redder Jackson Carlaw’s face gets and the more he points wildly across the chamber, the more trouble he is in,’ Sturgeon jabbed.
Carlaw had the last laugh. His every query hooked the First Minister and left her trying to wriggle out of her contradictory positions. The interim Tory leader pounced on her prevarications like a shark scenting blood.
‘The First Minister’s advisers have given her a thick folder of answers to questions that I have not asked’ was a particularly cutting rejoinder.
After her bout with Carlaw, the SNP leader was left gawping like a guppy, flopping and floundering around for something to keep her afloat. There is a chance that Brexit has sunk any chance of independence for a generation — an actual generation — and Sturgeon is starting to show the signs of it. For the first time in years, she doesn’t look in control of events.
Christine Grahame, who has told you once and won’t tell you again, pulled up the First Minister over electric shock dog collars. My parish priest’s sermons do go on a bit but this seemed an excessive measure.
In fact, Grahame wanted the boss to back a ban on zapping dogs. Sturgeon said the practice, which the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wants outlawed, divided opinion.
‘I appreciate that some members think that we should go further, and equally I understand that some people think that we have already gone too far,’ she replied, Lib Demishly. Any idiot can be a politician but someone who can triangulate the question of electrocuting West Highland Terriers — that’s a leader right there.
Sturgeon famously dislikes dogs and under her premiership the ban on tail-docking was relaxed. Grahame persevered, noting that Wales — the First Minister’s favourite metric for policy in Scotland — already had a prohibition. The Cruella de Vil of Govanhill said it was ‘too soon’ to say whether the current guidelines were working.
There’s something almost admirable about maintaining such a wildly reviled policy. When murderers are being given early release while Lassie gets the electric chair, you have to conclude that someone in government has a sense of humour.
Willie Rennie brought things back to Brexit, urging Sturgeon not to back Mrs May. The First Minister reminded him that a Lib Dem MP was planning to vote for the PM’s deal.
‘There are no SNP MPs who are going to do that,’ she told him, with the confidence of a woman who has her finger on the shock collar button.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.