If you’re a regular viewer of First Minister’s Questions — there’s no shame; it’s either this or an Inspector Morse repeat on the other side — you might recognise this sound: oooorrrrhhhhh.
It sounds like Yoda with a heavy cold or a dinosaur that just stood on a Lego but is in fact Richard Lyle, the member for Uddingston and Bellshill and the biggest ham to grace the stage since since Noël Coward.
His theatrical vowels are deployed to taunt the opposition after some devastating put-down has been delivered by Nicola Sturgeon. As a company man, though, every punchline strikes him as more magnificent than the last and so his contribution most weeks is 45 minutes of Lanarkshire whale sound.
Lyle’s sonorous yawping came to a head as his leader was parrying charges from Jackson Carlaw that her latest budget criminally underfunded Police Scotland. How so, Sturgeon, riposted: in the past three years, capital funding for the boys in blue had gone from £20million to £40million.
From Lyle’s backbench bolt there came a familiar flatulent squall: oooorrrrhhhhh! It was Lyle’s most important contribution to yesterday’s FMQs, and that’s including the question he asked. Carlaw was right on it: ‘Hollow cries of “Oh!” from Richard Lyle do not pay for more police officers and do not pay to fix a broken police estate.’
Neither, it might be said, does an extra £20million in three years, a pittance in budgetary terms. No wonder Columbo wore that same manky old raincoat for 35 years straight.
If Carlaw thought she was starving the rozzers of resources, he should ‘bring forward credible proposals’, the First Minister said impatiently. ‘The First Minister needs to get up to speed with her Government,’ the Scottish Tory leader hooted. ‘We have come forward with credible proposals that have been communicated to her Finance Secretary.’ I think it’s fair to say the Finance Secretary has had other things on her plate.
This was Carlaw’s first FMQs since becoming Scottish Tory leader in his own right, and his jabs were noticeably sharper than before. ‘What is the First Minister’s advice to Police Scotland on how it should deal with this funding gap?’ he enquired, saltier than a sailor. ‘Should it cut officer numbers, continue to let the ceilings fall down in police stations?’
One line in particular really thwocked home: ‘The First Minister must increase police funding or she will be putting the public at risk.’ It was more than a little demagogic but it may well resonate outside this place, on the streets where crime is a matter of practice, not theory. These flashes of bare-knuckle politics hint at a rowdy 14 months leading up to next year’s Holyrood election.
Richard Leonard managed to shift out of neutral long enough to ask about threatened closure of GP clinics in Salsburgh and Tarbolton. This led, as questions about the Scottish NHS so often do, to a thrilling account of primary care provision in Wales.
‘Tarbolton is not in Wales,’ the Labour observed wryly, ‘it is in Scotland’. The First Minister spends so much time warbling about the Welsh Valleys, I can only assume she’s got a duet coming up on the next Max Boyce album.
Leonard reminded the SNP leader that her government was trying to dissuade patients from attending Accident and Emergency for ailments that could be treated at the local GP surgery. Wouldn’t closing GP surgeries only make the problem worse?
Scotland’s NHS was ‘performing better than the health service in any other part of the UK’, she told him, citing figures to show the A&E situation was much worse in a place she called ‘Tory England’. You’ve never heard venom till you’ve heard Nicola Sturgeon combine the words ‘Tory’ and ‘England’.
‘Richard Leonard wants to make it all about the SNP,’ she huffed. Sputters of laughter greeted her complaint and prompted a bewildered glaze across her face: she has transformed from Mother Teresa to Marie Antoinette without even noticing.