‘Egg production is another of our successful food and drink sectors that will be negatively impacted by a no-deal Brexit’.
We were eagerly awaiting First Minister’s Questions when Fergus Ewing came to a boil. The Rural Economy Secretary was fielding a query from colleague Joan McAlpine and claimed the UK Government’s ‘reckless’ approach to post-Brexit trading rules ‘could wipe out the sector in one fell swoop’. (One fowl swoop, surely?)
Remainers have warned Brexit could see the Army sent in but this is the first time anyone’s suggested we’ll have nothing to dip our soldiers into. Ewing feared competition would hit ‘our hard-working egg producers’ hard and risk ‘consumers unwittingly eating eggs produced to lower welfare standards’.
If the prospect of thousands of Scottish hens having to retrain as coders doesn’t make Boris see sense, nothing will.
It was almost a relief when Nicola Sturgeon got to her feet. Not for her, mind. Tory quizmaster Jackson Carlaw and Labour’s Richard Leonard made her squirm over the latest delay to the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital, which was supposed to open in 2012. Whoever was Health Secretary back then certainly has a lot to answer for.
The First Minister told Carlaw: ‘The situation is unacceptable. To say that the Health Secretary and I are angry about it would be an understatement.’ Goodness. If they feel that strongly, they should write to their MSPs.
‘We have escalated our oversight of the project to Level 4,’ Sturgeon strained, the ministerial equivalent of telling a customer their call is important and to please continue holding.
Carlaw said ‘alarm bells’ should have rung after a critical report was published last year. If the Eastwood MSP knew about a problem with the hospital, Sturgeon essayed, ‘perhaps the question is why he did not bring it to anybody else’s attention’. What a time Jackson Carlaw is having. He’s been promoted to Tory leader and SNP Health Secretary in the space of a few weeks.
Carlaw said the fiasco was such that ‘for once, heads should roll’. Best not: waiting times in A&E are long enough as it is. The head cocked coolly beside the First Minister belonged to quangocrat turned Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, an ex-communist so dedicated a worker she once managed to toil 376 days in a single year.
That Stakhanovite ethic has yet to pay off in her latest role. Freeman was brought in as a troubleshooter but, 15 months on, she is still taking aim at the problems Shona Robison left behind. The Health Secretary’s career needs 300 miligramms of good news, stat.
Calamity Jeane leaned over time and again to whisper in the First Minister’s ear. These stage mumbles are rarely picked up by the TV cameras but they happen throughout FMQs and their frequency is a reliable indicator of a minister in trouble. If the boss needs your help sotto voce, it’s because you’re not doing anything worth shouting about.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard also had a right old go at the First Minister on the Sick Kids scandal.
He railed: ‘We need to get to the bottom of the matter. We need full public transparency in order to restore public trust. What will it take for the First Minister to listen finally, and to deliver a full public inquiry into the abject failure of governance and the government?’
This was a much sparkier Leonard than we’re used to. Perhaps Jackie Baillie had been at him with a cattle prod. Not that it mattered: Sturgeon just talked some more about how angry the whole thing made her then got down to a bit of blame shifting. Leonard’s call for a public inquiry will likely go unheeded but if the Scottish Government ever agrees to it, here’s a spoiler: a big building contractor did it and ran away.
Willie Rennie’s question on Yellowhammer, the worst-case scenario plans for Brexit, gave Sturgeon a chance to vent at the irresponsibility of the UK Government. Westminster should have looked to the more upbeat, SNP approach to selling massive political and economic disruption. In 2014, they called it the White Paper; today they call it the Growth Commission. A more fitting name might be Tartanhammer.