Alison’s aim is true on SNP missed targets

Westminster may have been prorogued, unprorogued, and descended into the sort of rowdy establishment a sailor on shore leave would give a wide berth but Holyrood has it beat for the uncanny.

Yesterday, we were treated to the exotic sight of the Scottish Tories cheering on the Greens, surely one of the lesser-known omens of the impending End Times.

Alison Johnstone claims to be co-leader of the latter party but so do various others. Going by her performance at First Minister’s Questions, they should dump the rest and put her in charge full-time.

Unlikely as it sounds, she was the star of this week’s FMQs, giving Nicola Sturgeon the toughest time she’s had in parliament in many a week.

Johnstone and the Gaia Gang reckon the SNP’s 75 per cent carbon-cutting target doesn’t go far enough. They want it to be 80 per cent and, failing that, for us all to live in caves and use elephant dung as currency.

Still, you can’t beat a dose of old-fashioned principle and Johnstone hauled the First Minister up on her fixation with input over output.

She snipped: ‘We have every confidence in the SNP Government’s world-leading ability to set targets, but when it comes to meeting them, it is another matter.’

Ruh-roh. It takes a lot to get a Green angry. Someone must have put a chamomile tea bag in the wrong recycling bin.

She proceeded to read out every target the Nationalists were currently missing, which took some time. With each one, her stern Edinburgh tone was met by a fresh throb of anguish from the SNP backbenches.

NHS treatment times. Wince.

Cancer waiting times. Ouch.

Expanding early years education. A sucking of teeth.

Incredulity was scrawled across Nationalist faces. Why was she doing this? She was meant to be on their side. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless swampie.

Her backbenchers may have been wounded but Sturgeon was having none of it. Trumpeting Wednesday’s reforms, she reminded Captain Patrick and the Planeteers that ‘the Green Party in this Parliament sat on its hands while the rest of the Parliament did that.‘

It wasn’t Sturgeon’s only bust up with the leftier elements at Holyrood. Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard asked if she really thought the SNP ought to be shutting the Electoral Commission out of the process of choosing a question for any second referendum on Scotland leaving the UK.

‘I will take today’s question from Richard Leonard as progress,’ Sturgeon shot back. ‘In asking me about the question for an independence referendum, he now appears to be accepting that one is inevitable. That is progress.’

She allowed herself a victory grin. The cutting rejoinder, the attack line turned back on an opponent — these are what Sturgeon lives for, and few can rival her arch cunning.

Leonard persevered. ‘This is not just about the integrity of this process. This is about the integrity of your government… What have you got to hide? Are you simply trying to rig the process?’

Where have they been keeping this Richard Leonard hidden? Did they replace the batteries at Labour conference? This was more like it.

Sturgeon dialled up the snark: ‘If I am understanding him right — bear with me, because I know that this is a bit complicated — Richard Leonard is standing up here today demanding that we test a question, again, for a referendum that he also says should not happen and he will not allow to happen.’

The SNP benches roared into laughter, some of it even genuine. Housing minister Kevin Stewart’s noble dome snapped back and forward at such frenetic pace he was in danger of doing himself an injury, or prompting seizures in the public gallery with the myriad light beams bouncing off his unadorned noggin.

Some hot-blooded barracking flew between the SNP and Labour benches, all scored to a background thunk! thunk! thunk! of palms drubbing desks. This is what FMQs is meant to be like: absurd theatre with every player a bigger ham than the one before.


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

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