Like watching Perry Mason cross-examine a border collie

Nicola Sturgeon was not impressed.

Her constitution minister was having some difficulty introducing her Indyref 2 (Sort Of) Bill to Holyrood.

Mike Russell — he’s ‘Mike’ again, for those who keep track of such things — let forth his ham Shakespearean boom only for a whisper to flutter across the chamber. His microphone wasn’t on and when staring at it inquisitively failed to solve the problem Sturgeon finally leaned over to help out.

It wasn’t the best start for her latest Grand Old Duke of York gambit. She’s marching her men up to the top of the hill and her chief general is still in the car park trying to crack the child lock.

The Referendums Bill is a typically SNP piece of legislation — a bit of window-dressing to prettify Sturgeon’s failed Indyref 2 strategy but also a loosely-worded instrument that would hand sweeping powers to ministers.

The aim is to make it easier to hold future referendums. Go on. Guess what question they have in mind.

Amid the disarray of Brexit, Russell said ‘fresh ideas’ were needed, such as an exciting new proposal he had thought up called independence. A referendum on such would be justified by ‘any deal that takes Scotland out of the EU against the wishes of the majority of people in Scotland’.

Trying to drag Scotland out of a union a majority of voters backed at the ballot box? Scandalous behaviour. ‘We will be endeavouring,’ Russell added, ‘to get away from the negativity and nastiness of the current Brexit process’. We were going to have our own negativity and nastiness instead.

Adam Tomkins, the Tories’ law boffin, shredded the Bill in a few questions with the occasional snort to telegraph his contempt for the whole tiresome business. This wasn’t about good governance, but ‘Nicola Sturgeon’s pet obsession with independence’ and the proposed legislation was a ‘Trojan horse for a wildcat Indyref 2’.

If the Greeks had built a giant wooden feline, it would’ve spent the war scratching at the door to Troy without deciding whether it wanted to go in or out.

Tomkins noted that the Bill would create a ‘diktat of ministers’ in which the Scottish Government set the date and question of a future referendum. Fair enough. The Electoral Commission isn’t likely to sign off on ‘Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or Aye.’

The SNP needs to be in charge of timing so it can pick a day when its members aren’t protesting unpatriotic teacakes and MI5’s ballot-tampering agents are on annual leave.

As Tomkins threw the statute book at the flimsy Bill, Russell tipped his head in glazed bemusement. It was like watching Perry Mason cross-examine a border collie.

When he finally got on his hind legs, Russell ridiculed the idea Nicola Sturgeon was trying to sneak a second referendum past the voters. He riposted: ‘She was so stealthy about it that she sent a card to every household in Scotland.’

‘Yes,’ quipped Jackson Carlaw, ‘but she sent them to all the wrong addresses’.

Richard Leonard cut a lonely figure on his frontbench, which now consists of him, him in fake glasses and a moustache, and a mysterious mild-mannered Yorkshireman calling himself ‘Lichard Reonard’. This week, he lost his Brexit spokesman, justice spokesman and all his European MPs.

With no one else to do the job, he had to deliver Labour’s response to Russell himself. Around half his MSPs hadn’t shown up — perhaps delayed trying to figure out their party’s position on Brexit — but they didn’t miss much.

Leonard complained the SNP was ‘distracted’. On the sparse rows behind him, comrades sought refuge in their phones.

Russell filleted Leonard by paying askance tribute to the departing Neil Findlay: ‘I hope that, whatever he decides to do, he enjoys it more than being a member of the Labour group.’

Patrick Harvie was worried about the proper conduct of a future referendum. Russell referenced the news that Boris Johnson was to be questioned in court over his EU referendum statements about the UK sending Brussels £350million a week.

Let’s hope the law doesn’t look into dodgy claims from the independence vote. Nicola Sturgeon would be facing a once in a lifetime sentence.


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

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