The torrid heat bearing down on Holyrood yesterday went to Alex Cole-Hamilton’s head, or rather his chest.
The Edinburgh West MSP sashayed into the debating chamber in a sharp suit with three shirt buttons undone — a very Liberal Democrat.
He was less Jo Grimond, more John Travolta, if Saturday Night Fever had a subplot about proportional representation. Disco, like the Lib Dems, is still very much alive.
The First Minister waited her turn while Fiona Hyslop fielded questions about war and peace. Tory Peter Chapman feared the Nationalists were being too soft in the fishing stand-off with Ireland over Rockall.
Strichen’s Dr Strangelove wanted to know why we hadn’t boarded Dublin’s boats yet. The minister replied: ‘We continue to monitor the situation but I will not discuss the specifics of the deployment of surveillance assets.’
A more pressing question is the how defence of the realm became a matter for Fiona Hyslop. The minister for culture, external affairs and the other stuff no one else wants is not an obviously Churchillian figure. She has nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and Gaelic theatre funding.
Hyslop didn’t inspire any more confidence when Ross Greer (Scottish Greens, junior league) asked why the human rights-loving Scottish Government had handed a six-figure sum to the manufacturer of the tear gas fired at protestors by Hong Kong police.
Hyslop said the tear gas wasn’t produced at their Scottish factory. That’s all right, then.
Sturgeon looked relieved that her time had finally come, though she wasn’t much of an improvement. Ruth Davidson collared her on the Scottish Government’s failure to make removing an electronic tag a crime. Sturgeon said she didn’t want offenders punished for accidentally losing their tracking devices.
The SNP’s approach to law enforcement differs somewhat between Scotland and Hong Kong. It’s a case of tagless in Toryglen, tear gas in Tamar Park.
Davidson told MSPs how the system deals with tag-breakers: ‘You get sent a letter asking if you wouldn’t mind turning yourself in, please?’ No wonder The Bill ran out of storylines.
Richard Leonard had stuck in two bags when brewing his Yorkshire Tea yesterday morning and was fit for the First Minister: ‘Why is this government spending £427 less per pupil in our primary schools? Why does the Auditor General for Scotland say that our colleges are not achieving financial sustainability? If education is the government’s top priority, why is the government spending more than £1,000 less per student on teaching in our universities?’
Kapow! Zoink! Blam! Leonard landed blows like a Batman villain. He said education minister John Swinney had carried out a ‘mercy killing’ of his education reforms after losing support. To Sturgeon’s right, Swinney fizzled like a condemned man in the electric chair. Eventually Roseanna Cunningham leaned over and patted his hand in reassurance.
How many education debates had the government held is this parliamentary year, prayed Leonard? Answer came there none, both because Sturgeon didn’t know and because, as the Labour leader revealed with a flourish, the answer was zero.
She fared better against his comrade James Kelly, who kept calling a £450m budget underspend a Scottish Government ‘slush fund’, as though Derek Mackay was saving it up for a weekend on the craps table in Vegas. Sturgeon eventually unsheathed her well-worn Dragon Defence: things were worse in Wales.
‘I actually feel embarrassed for James Kelly,’ she confessed.
I felt much the same for her deputy Keith Brown, the unofficial Minister for The National. He went on verbal safari with a rambling indictment of the Tories that eventually petered out before he decided to call it a day and stick a question mark on the end of it.
Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh has indulged these anti-Tory jeremiads dressed up as questions but yesterday he’d had enough and rapped Brown’s knuckles.
‘I can tell that it is the last day of term,’ he tutted, as if the place was an ecclesia of elevated debate the rest of the year round.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.