Shining a light on the Ena Sharples of Holyrood

How many MSPs does it take to change a lightbulb?

There was an answer, of sorts, at First Minister’s Questions thanks to Christine Grahame. Grahame — imagine Ena Sharples flitted to Galashiels and turned political — is Holyrood’s brashest battleaxe.

She is the deputy presiding officer who can reduce senior MSPs to a chin-chewing huff and the backbencher ever-looming with a left-field query no minister can possibly be prepared for because no one else thinks quite like Christine Grahame.

Yesterday was the First Minister’s turn to be on the receiving end of a Grahameing. It was all well and good promising to end dumping of household waste in landfills by 2021 but Nicola Sturgeon didn’t know the half of it.

Grahame inveighed: ‘I advise the First Minister that when I recently purchased a small musical toy torch with whirly coloured lights for my granddaughter, aged one, it took me at least 20 minutes to remove it from its packaging, which I did with the aid of a Phillips screwdriver.

‘That illustrates yet again how fighting packaging seems to be a losing battle — even the humble turnip is now pre-wrapped, for goodness’ sake.’

Sometimes it’s better to curse the darkness than risk bodily harm switching on a light.

‘I’m relieved to hear that the toy torch with whirly coloured lights was for Christine Grahame’s granddaughter,’ Sturgeon ventured.

Grahame was lucky to get an answer. The First Minister was not in the mood for questions. Or ‘Thursday’, as it’s commonly known. With no little generosity and indulgence on her part, she deigns to attend the centrepiece of the parliamentary week. Is she really expected to make herself accountable to, ugh, the opposition?

Jackson Carlaw, whose Widow Twankie theatrics we will miss when Ruth Davidson returns, coyly laid his weekly trap.

What did the First Minister have to say about missing her 12-week, legally-guaranteed target for treatment on the NHS?

She could have struck a rare note of contrition and took the wind out of the Tory No.2’s sails but instead she honed in on the teeth of the snare — and leapt right in.

She sniffed: ‘As Jackson Carlaw is well aware — he certainly should be aware of it — this government is investing record sums in the National Health Service.’

Oh Nicola, why do you do it? That thing where you airily dismiss a problem by boasting how much taxpayers’ money you’ve flung at it? It doesn’t sound like mitigation; it sounds like you’re telling the punters to be grateful for what they’ve got.

It went on like this for a good 15 minutes. Carlaw brought up the radiologist recruitment campaign that managed to hire five staff; she berated him that other countries had the same problem.

He mentioned the 38 per cent rise in patients waiting more than six weeks for tests. She maintained things were better than they used to be, adding: ‘I hope that Jackson Carlaw will have the good grace to welcome some of that.’

Then she attempted to interrogate him on the impact of Brexit on the NHS. With a salty flourish, Carlaw intoned: ‘Presiding Officer, if you are keen to establish Opposition Leader’s Question Time each week for 45 minutes, I will be very happy to answer questions then.’

Tory Maurice Golden tried to ask about the SNP’s failure to meet environmental targets but Sturgeon shot back at his party’s ‘knee-jerk opposition to the workplace parking levy’, courageously volunteering to bring up her second most unpopular policy (after placing border guards along the Tweed and forcing us to use empty Irn-Bru bottles as a currency).

Some bolshie polytechnic lecturers are on the brink of striking and their socialist sister Jackie Baillie had their back. Would the First Minister encourage her Education Secretary ‘to take a, perhaps, less passive role‘?

John Swinney yelped and shook his head like a forlorn Westie whose tail had just been trodden on. Roseanna Cunningham reached over and squeezed his forearm in reassurance. They take mild criticism well, these people.


Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: Stephen at

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