In the 15 months since he became Scottish Labour leader, I have suggested Richard Leonard lacked the killer instinct needed at First Minister’s Questions.
I have bemoaned his earnestness and failure to play dirty. I would now like to withdraw these scurrilous allegations.
At Holyrood on Thursday, Leonard delivered a slow-burn own that will have cleared Bute House’s cupboards of every last tube of Savlon. At first, it seemed like he was wandering off on one of his anti-Tory verbal safaris. Did the FM agree No Deal Brexit was a ‘very real danger’?
‘Yes, I agree,’ Sturgeon replied, a little nonplussed.
What about extending Article 50? Was she for that too?
She was. Sturgeon was relaxing into this arrangement. If Leonard kept up these softballs, she might stick him on the SNP regional list next time.
Why, Leonard pressed on, did Theresa May keep pushing her deal even though it had been defeated and no one wanted it?
Wait, was he…? Yes, he was.
As Sturgeon beamed at another free hit on the Prime Minister, Leonard sprung the trap: ‘Does the First Minister agree that the Prime Minister cannot keep asking the same question until she gets the answer she wants?’
Sturgeon leapt to her heels and got out ‘Yes, I agree with that’ before the snorting on all sides alerted her to the giant beam in her eye.
‘Cold fury’ doesn’t do her expression justice. The new Leith trams will come in on budget before she forgives this slight on the House of Murrell.
Jackson Carlaw pursued the less profitable angle of an SNP Cabinet minister implying his opponents were traitors. Mike Russell had described a list of Scottish Tory MPs who backed Mrs May’s Brexit deal as a ‘Ragman Roll’, a reference to the Scottish gentry who swore allegiance to the English king.
Usually when an MSP tweets something even mildly off-colour, Sturgeon has her phone out within seconds and is tapping her scolding at righteous pace. On Russell, nothing. Perhaps she couldn’t get a virtue signal on her mobile.
‘I am genuinely struggling to believe that Jackson Carlaw has come here to talk about a Twitter hashtag,’ she wibbled, refusing to condemn Russell, seated not concidentally beside her.
How could she? A Cabinet minister perched on her right, Roseanna Cunningham, had got away with branding Ruth Davidson ‘Toom Tabard’, the monicker given to a 13th century Scottish king seen as a vassal of the English Crown.
Mind you, it was a waste of a question from Carlaw. Sturgeon is increasingly desperate to keep her grassroots at bay over indyref2. She’s as likely to condemn less-than-civic nationalism as Neil Findlay is to set up Labour Friends of Norman Tebbit.
The pointlessness of Carlaw’s matronly tut-tutting was conceded by the passive faces arranged behind him.
Adam Tomkins was glancing off into the distance, as though into an abyss of ennui and futility, or roughly in the direction of Kenny Gibson. Tomkins is a first-class legal mind stuck in a second-rate parliament vainly lamenting his party’s campaign to turn the UK into a third-world economy. If his face were a portrait, it would be titled ‘Waiting for the call from Harvard Law’.
Fellow Tory Graham Simpson read out a letter from his constituent, a serving police officer, asking why the thin blue line had only received half the pay bump awarded to teachers.
Sturgeon, who appeared to have mugged Bertie Bassett for his outfit on her way into FMQs, was now back to seeing the world in black and white. ‘Parts of those comments were quite disgraceful,’ she huffed.
That was the people who patrol the streets while she sleeps told.
Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh is losing patience with languid questions and answers. He warned MSPs to be more succinct, ‘otherwise I will have to cut off members’.
I think the Saudi Arabian parliament takes much the same approach.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: email@example.com. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.