Halfway through First Minister’s Questions, Willie Rennie threw up his hands, shook his head, and sunk back in his seat.
The Liberal Democrat leader had been defeated, as so many lesser mortals are, by Nicola Sturgeon’s superhuman capacity for waffle. The feisty Fifer had enquired about NHS waiting times, which everyone familiar with the First Minister’s script knows are going down/Westminster’s fault/something something Brexit/turn to Jeane for help.
This time Sturgeon went for her time-honoured denial mantra: ‘Our health service is seeing more patients than ever before… We have record funding and record numbers of staff… The health service is doing more now than it has ever done.’
Behind her, legion glazed expressions swayed in cultish credulity. They always look only a chant or two away from hammering together a wicker man.
‘Astonishing,’ Rennie sighed from his seat. He wanted to know why NHS Highland was telling patients to go elsewhere for treatment because Raigmore hospital was full. When he made it back to his feet, the Lib Dem appeared stunned, though he may have been staring too long as his luminescent pink tie, which looked like a stick of candy floss had had an unfortunate encounter with some weapons-grade uranium.
Rennie protested: ‘Telling people just to go away seems to be a pretty shabby way to deal with waiting times.’
That was it. The First Minister had had quite enough of this.
‘I think that some of Willie Rennie’s language was deeply regrettable,’ she scolded. ‘The NHS does not tell anyone to “go away”. It is deeply irresponsible for any member of Parliament to suggest that it does. What the NHS does… is encourage patients to seek treatment in the place that is best for them.’
Ronnie Biggs didn’t rob trains, he just assisted in unscheduled cargo transfers.
Sturgeon has never been convinced of the merits of First Minister’s Questions. She’s keen on the First Minister bit but not so much the Questions, and when the opposition insists on asking them, she becomes increasingly intemperate.
Jackson Carlaw learned this to his cost when he pointed out that school subject choice was down under the SNP. This is a matter of contention in that the evidence says one thing and ministers say the evidence should stop talking down Scotland.
The First Minister calmly explained that if you held them upside down, walked widdershins under a full moon, and read with one eye closed, the figures said her government was doing a super job. Of course, that wasn’t enough for Jackson Carlaw, who kept pushing until the woman he referred to as ‘she’ (before promptly correcting to ‘the First Minister’) snapped and launched into a fitful polemic on the English education system, funding cuts and… Michael Gove’s Twitter feed.
Richard Leonard asked why the children’s ward is closed three nights a week at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, not to be confused with the other NHS Lothian children’s hospital which is closed seven nights a week.
Those of us who ribbed the Labour leader for his understated delivery have created a monster. Now his shoulders hunch and his left claw juts out, clamped in revolutionary fervour, like Gollum grasping for the ‘precious’ ring, presumably to take it into public ownership and make Sauron pay his taxes.
‘I assume that he is not arguing that the ward should be open when it is not clinically safe for children,’ Sturgeon replied, in an answer that probably sounded a winner in her head.
Aspiring grown-up Ross Greer sprouted up like a green shoot: ‘It has been more than two years since the Government brought a debate on anything to do with our schools to the chamber. If the First Minister is so confident of the Government’s record on education, will there be a debate before the end of the year? If not, why not?’
They only banned smacking a month ago and already kids are getting cheekier.