This week, a report concluded that SNP ministers had okayed £9bn worth of PFI contracts without understanding them. This was a scandal and there was no getting out of it for Nicola Sturgeon.
Step forward, Richard Leonard, and onto a rake. When Sturgeon reminded the Labour leader at FMQs that his party had introduced PFI, he leapt to his feet, seized a sheath of papers, and announced: ‘I anticipated last night how the First Minister might respond to my first question, so I went back to look at a report that I wrote 25 years ago,’
He read from his papers, triumphantly. He had called PFI ‘a con trick’, ‘a buy-now-pay-later mirage’, in which ‘the taxpayer… will simply pay more in the end’. It was ‘smart accountancy but bad economics’.
He anticipated this?
And thought this was a good answer?
A look of wonderment spread across Sturgeon’s face. She looked like those lottery winners you see on the news who still can’t believe their luck. Behind her, Nationalist MSPs howled and heckled until it was no longer possible to hear Leonard. What relief this brought Labour MSPs was short-lived as the Presiding Officer instructed the hecklers to ‘treat each other with respect… with less of this barracking’.
They barracked through every second of his reprimand. Ken Macintosh is a good man but never has a presiding officer exerted less authority over the chamber. The chair is never emptier than when he’s in it.
Beside Leonard, Iain Gray’s complexion had gone in seconds through all 50 shades of his surname, and he probably wished he had a ball-gag on hand for his hapless leader. A funereal silence gripped the benches behind. They understood, even if Leonard did not, the implication of what he was saying.
Sturgeon understood too and her voice dripped with cruel joy: ‘Richard Leonard — bless — wrote a report 25 years ago. Is it not a shame that the Labour governments that followed in the years after that ignored everything that he said? It took an SNP government to act on the things that he said.’
Now it dawned on Leonard what he’d done. In trying to entrap Sturgeon, he’d snared himself. He took an SNP scandal and made it about Labour’s failings and his insignificance in his own party. It was like an episode of Poirot in reverse. Inspector Leonard fingered the culprit, tripped over the body, clocked himself with the candlestick and confessed to the murder.
The more he tried to recover, the louder the laughter swelled. ‘I am sorry, I may be enjoying myself too much,’ Sturgeon chimed in.
In those long, excruciating minutes, as his opponents’ cackles grew higher and his comrades’ heads sunk lower, I changed my mind about mercy killing. Surely it would be more compassionate for Jackie Baillie to take him away to live on a farm with all the other Labour leaders.
With one last, limp swing, he scolded Sturgeon for an upcoming speech on independence to ‘her party faithful’.
Sturgeon backhanded him: ‘Richard Leonard should just be relieved that he is not speaking to his own party faithful tomorrow, because they would be in despair.‘
If Leonard isn’t on the SNP payroll, he’s being done out of a fortune.
Patrick Harvie told the First Minister next week’s budget had to put public transport ahead of road capacity and she told him there would be ‘the right balance’. This is the problem the Greens have under Harvie’s constitution-first leadership. They’re always going to vote for SNP budgets, the SNP knows this, and so they have very little leverage.
Derek Mackay could build an oil rig on the roof of Holyrood paid for with a tax on vegans and the Scottish Greens would dutifully punch the little button when it came time to vote. They have turned themselves into a mini-me SNP and for what? A token here and a head-pat there.
Richard Leonard’s not the only leader to humiliate his party.