Jackson Carlaw was ‘seeking to make it political’ – the ‘it’ being that trifling matter of the First Minister covering up an outbreak of Covid-19 in Edinburgh almost a month before lockdown was put in place.
Imagine thinking there’s a place for politics in a subject like that.
First Minister’s Questions, which is held every Thursday except when it’s held on Tuesday or Wednesday, ran to 75 minutes yesterday. If it gets any longer they’ll have to start handing out half-time oranges.
This week’s instalment was the most ill-tempered since the pandemic began.
The Tory leader had a go at the failure to contact-trace attendees of the now notorious Nike conference.
‘On behalf of public health experts who carried out the management of this situation,’ Sturgeon protested, ‘I really do need to point out contact-tracing did happen and they would have traced the contacts they thought were appropriate to trace.’
The First Minister was frightfully worried that such talk ‘starts to impugn the integrity of the experts who managed this outbreak, including Public Health England’.
I’m not a clype, Sir, but a big English boy did it and ran away.
The deftness with which Sturgeon hailed experts as heroes while holding them up as human shields was something to marvel.
There was no fault to be found, of course, but on the off chance that some turned up, she was making clear where the blame lay. Sturgeon practised social distancing before it became fashionable: she never goes within two metres of accountability for her government’s actions.
Growing testy, Carlaw replied: ‘Last week, when I asked the First Minister where responsibility lay, she said explicitly – responsibility rests with her. Now it seems when it’s convenient responsibility rests with public health officials.’
‘This is a team approach,’ the First Minister explained, and in her own way she was telling the truth. She takes the questions and civil servants take the fall.
Carlaw flourished: ‘A testing system that’s only delivering at one-third of its capacity. That’s a failure. Crisis in Scotland’s care homes and still not enough tests for staff and residents. That is a failure. No clarity on how, or even if, the public will be told about future outbreaks. That is a failure.’
He looked like a weight had been lifted. He’s been anxious to get that off his chest.
I wouldn’t want to get in Liz Smith’s bad books. The Tory MSP is not a shouter or a finger-thruster; she quizzes ministers with the stony disappointment of a bank manager considering an overdraft extension.
The source of her dismay was ministers’ failure to answer parliamentary questions promptly. ‘One ministerial department delayed answers on 30 occasions,’ she cross-examined. ‘One MSP intimated that they had received 12 holding answers in one day and another MSP intimated she had received five holding answers in one day. Does the First Minister accept this is a completely unacceptable situation?’
She may as well have been reading Sturgeon’s credit card bill and tutting: ‘Did you really need that new Blu-ray player?’
Sturgeon said ministers and civil servants were trying their hardest to respond quickly to queries. Going by the sternness of Smith’s expression, they’d better pick up the pace.
Lockdown has inflicted its indignities on the best of us, and MSPs are no different. In brief glimpses Anas Sarwar could be seen squatting on the backbenches and appeared to have borrowed Donny Osmond’s hair circa 1974 for the occasion.
Alex Cole-Hamilton had let his do go entirely. Either that or his local Sainsbury’s doesn’t deliver Just for Men. Now sporting salt ’n’ pepper locks (with noticeably high sodium content), the Edinburgh Western George Clooney even got a question in.
Another familiar face made an appearance, even if her voice sounded muted. Ken Macintosh recommended she adjust the microphone. ‘I’ve never been accused of being too quiet before, Presiding Officer,’ Ruth Davidson said with a twinkle.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: email@example.com. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.