The melancholy eyes and drooping jowls of a Basset hound

An unseasonally sunny day at Holyrood found MSPs in a breezy, end-of-term mood.

Parliament goes into recess next week, or rather Brexcess, for the Presiding Officer has warned he’ll recall members in the unlikely event things don’t go to plan at Westminster and we find ourselves on the brink of no-deal Brexit.

In which case, we will need the finest minds in the kingdom, which naturally demands the services of Sandra White and James Dornan.

The easy calm at Holyrood is encouraged by blessed distance from happenings at Westminster, which have all the dignity of a fist-fight at a midget’s funeral. For once, MSPs look broadly competent, albeit redefining competence to mean ‘not directly involved in the imminent collapse of the British political system’.

Then Richard Leonard had to go and ruin it all. The Scottish Labour leader has the melancholy eyes and drooping jowls of a Basset hound on a vegan diet. This gives even his most benign remarks the gloom of a death row preacher.

Yesterday, he was less Old Testament, more Revelation: ‘Can the First Minister take the opportunity to reassure the public that Scotland now has access to six weeks’ worth of reserves of all the medicines that we need?’

And he looked, and behold a pale horse, and his rider’s name was Brexit and Boris followed with him.

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed she’d been given ‘broad assurance’ that we wouldn’t all contract Black Death overnight. The real pestilence, though, was the Tories, who, she tutted, were laughing during Leonard’s question.

‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’ Nationalist MSPs pointed and declaimed like a righteous mob on day release from a Monty Python sketch.

Leonard and Sturgeon went on in this fashion for ten minutes, asking one another if the Tories were ghastly and both answering that, why yes, the Tories were ghastly.

The First Minister and Labour leader are now running an informal coalition of complainers on Brexit. It’s easier than trying to strike up a conversation with the one million Scots who voted Leave.

Leonard can turn the screw when he wants but lately at FMQs he has adopted a scattergun approach. One of these days, he might even locate the ammunition.

Impish Brexit refusenik Willie Rennie boasted that Sturgeon had been for only single market membership ‘until I charmed her to support the People’s Vote’. If Rennie is able to sway Sturgeon on constitutional referendums, I can think of a follow-up mission.

The First Minister had been in London for top-level talks on Brexit, which isn’t her responsibility but the farther she’s kept from Scottish health and education, the better.

‘Yesterday at Westminster, I had a constructive meeting with Jeremy Corbyn,’ she informed the chamber, adding pointedly: ‘and then I met the Prime Minister.‘ (I guess Theresa didn’t put out the good biscuits.)

The rub, she sighed, was the Tory leader’s intransigence: ‘If the Prime Minister wants to find a compromise, it is time for her to set out where she is prepared to compromise.‘

Being lectured on compromise by Nicola Sturgeon is like being accused of excessive dandyism by Jackson Carlaw.

Speaking of Ruth Davidson’s Tory temp, he railed against limits on the number of subjects pupils can study at school.

‘There is a massive reduction in subjects such as modern languages,’ Carlaw huffed. After Brexit, we’ll be lucky to get as far as Penzance on our blue passports. Best start offering Higher Cornish on the Curriculum for Excellence.

On attainment, Sturgeon explained: ‘We have changed how the figures are counted a little bit.’ Now, all 129 per cent of children are getting top marks.

The formiddable Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, again decried the poor train services in her area. She’s belted out more queries about the Borders Railway than Glenn Miller did about the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

The First Minister tried, wanly: ‘A couple of weeks ago, I said in the chamber that ScotRail is in the last chance saloon and I repeat that today.‘

I’m making Sturgeon’s Last Chance my new local. They never seem to call last orders.


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

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