‘This week, the coronavirus spread to Scotland,’ Jackson Carlaw intoned. ‘The First Minister can be assured that the Scottish Government will have the full and engaged support of myself and all Scottish Conservatives.’
Gah. It was going to be one of those question times. You know the kind, where everyone falls over themselves trying to sound magnanimous and nobody wants to be accused of ‘politicising’ a crisis. I supposes it’s reassuring to know there is in fact an ethical red line in politics, even if it’s as modest as ‘will think twice about exploiting global pandemics for narrow political advantage’.
‘I thank Jackson Carlaw for his comments and for his statement about support from the Scottish Conservatives,’ Sturgeon replied, because what else can you say? It’s not like all those rampant polymeric molecules are going to stop dead in their tracks because the Tories put out a statement. ‘Call off the worldwide contagion, lads; Murdo Fraser’s come out against us.’
There followed some self-indulgent self-congratulation for the UK and Scottish Governments. They had managed to work together on this, don’t you know? Things have come to a pretty pass when actual grown-ups expect a gold star for not kicking off in the sandpit in the middle of an international health crisis.
‘Intensive hospitalisation’, ‘compromised immune systems’. Carlaw gave it the full Holby City, as though he hadn’t been Googling this stuff along with the rest of us all week. At times like these, we don’t need politicians’ commentary; we need experts on television at every opportunity telling us everything we need to know. Just the facts, ma’am, as Sergeant Joe Friday used to say. Instead, we got more politicians quizzing each other about a virus none of them know anything about. The tedium was infectious.
‘You have failed the homeless!’ The cry was so abrupt it almost startled some MSPs awake. ‘You have failed the homeless. You are giving money to arms companies.’ The disruption was coming from serial protestor Sean Clerkin, who like Marlon Brando in The Wild One is rebelling against whatever you’ve got. Down on the Labour frontbench, Iain Gray visibly twitched.
Clerkin was the picketer who forced him to seek shelter in a Subway sandwich shop during the 2011 election, killing Gray’s hopes of becoming first minister. The incident remains the closest Scotland has to a Kennedy moment. Do you remember where you were when Iain Gray hid behind a meatball sub?
Clerkin was escorted out of FMQs by police, though why they rewarded him I don’t know. The last remaining hope was Alison Johnstone. If anyone could resuscitate this comatose question time, it was her.
(If you’re not sure which one she is, she’s the only woman in the uber-progressive, equality-preaching Greens’ parliamentary group. Still stumped? She’s the Green leader who takes an interest in the environment and can thus be easily distinguished from the other one.)
Johnstone pressed the first minister on continued flaring at the ExxonMobil plant at Mossmorran in Fife. Thus far, Sturgeon’s response to the company has been an oft-repeated ‘just don’t let that ever happen again’, prompting Johnstone to suggest she was ‘too close to the fossil fuel industry to hold it to account’.
‘This is a serious situation,’ Sturgeon tutted, ‘and the tone of the question does not do justice to that seriousness.’
Johnstone’s comeback was fierier than the sky above Cowdenbeath: ‘With the greatest of respect, the First Minister’s expression of disappointment does not help people in the area sleep at night — it does not do justice to the seriousness of the situation.’
I’m told the regularity with which Johnstone’s performances are praised in this sketch causes some alarm and unease in the Green ranks. Naturally, I take a wicked relish in this but I commend her withering broadsides against a complacent first minister because so few can do it so well — from within the tent but stubbornly independent.
Yes, she might want us to live in a solar-powered barter economy with three lentils between the lot of us but at least she believes in something, and that’s admirable. Alison, my aim is true.