Alex Salmond made an unexpected return to St Andrew’s House yesterday.
Nicola Sturgeon delivered the daily coronavirus briefing but the tone was unmistakably that of her predecessor. There was the high indignation and low sarcasm, delivered with the familiar troika of political peevishness: the snark, the snarl and the sneer. Forced attempts at bonhomie were essayed but the reigning tone was blunt aggression.
Like her mentor, the First Minister tends to reserve her hottest contempt for the media and yesterday she radiated boiling wrath. Crouching forward with one elbow on the podium, like a leopard readying itself to pounce, she growled at question after question from reporters.
They wanted to interrogate the idea of quarantining English holidaymakers to Scotland, something she refuses to rule out, but she seemed to resent every fresh query more than the last.
One journalist noted that she had cited Covid-19 restrictions between US states and asked her to explain how those worked in practice. ‘I suggest you go and look yourself at how it operates in other countries,’ she snapped, concluding her answer with the surly coda: ‘I know that doesn’t translate very easily into a dramatic and over hyped headline.’
Another correspondent asked National Clinical Director Jason Leitch what thought had been given to stadium capacity once football and rugby return. ‘I’m just not sure it’s even a reasonable question to ask,’ Sturgeon sighed, before turning over to the professor.
The Unionist media conspiracy that exists entirely in the minds of Scottish nationalists wasn’t the only cause of her irritation. Boris Johnson — no sentence that begins with those words ever ends well — had just boldly informed Prime Minister’s Questions that ‘there is no such thing as a border between England and Scotland’.
Legally, of course, there is. That’s why you never saw Inspector Morse tracking down MOT fraudsters in Barlanark or DCI Taggart ambling among the spires announcing, ‘There has been an involuntary manslaughter’. It’s why a four-pack of Magners will set you back four quid in Carlisle and a second mortgage in Cumbernauld.
Sturgeon told the briefing it was ‘absurd and ridiculous’ to claim the border doesn’t exist, and added: ‘If the Prime Minister is questioning that now I’m not sure what he’d say if I pitched up in Newcastle and tried to implement Scottish Government policies there.’ It would be more of a surprise if she tried to implement them here.
Personally, I’m up for annexing Newcastle but I have some questions. Will the Scotland squad inherit Shearer’s 30 international goals for England? Who gets the commercial rights to Auf Wiedersehen, Pet? What’s the Gaelic for ‘Whey aye, man’?
But the most pressing question of all is this: are these two really the best we can do? A self-styled defender of the Union cheerily unaware of the absolute basics of centuries-old legal tradition? Wishing Scots law didn’t exist used to make you a second-year LLB student at Strathclyde, now it qualifies you to be Prime Minister.
The First Minister, on the other hand, is well aware of the constitution. She thinks about little else and, despite being in the middle of a pandemic, her hand is already pawing the starting pistol for next year’s election and her trigger finger has never been itchier.
When she succeeded Alex Salmond, it seemed like there was a cooler mind in charge but steadily the pique and the grievance and the certainty took over again. She wants to be the first minister for all of Scotland but her tribal impulses consistently get the better of her. What she offers is Salmondism without Salmond.
There they hunched over their respective podiums yesterday, the two most powerful people in Scotland and two more perfect portraits of arrogance and entitlement you could not hope to find. If I lived in Newcastle, I wouldn’t want to be governed by either of them.