Can’t read his, can’t read his poker face

Richard Leonard should take up poker.

He might have more spare time on his hands soon enough, but that is rather the point. He rose at First Minister’s Questions, hours after three of his MSPs called on him to resign, and he gave off not a single tell.

His composure seldom breaks. It would be hard to tell whether he had just won the lottery or been appointed head of inspections at the Wuhan wet market.

Come 12.20pm, he did as custom commands and set phasers to monotone. The Scottish Government had nicked his idea for a National Care Service but was first commissioning a feasibility study.

‘She [Nicola Sturgeon] should not need an independent review to tell her the basic principles on which such a service should be built,’ he droned.

The First Minister replied: ‘I agree with the principles that Richard Leonard has enunciated, however… there is a difference between a call for something in opposition and the delivery of it in government. One has to work out not just the vision that one seeks to achieve but the detail of how one gets from here to there.’

Sturgeon addressed him slowly and deliberately, as though explaining something to a small child or John Mason. The contempt in which she holds the man is palpable. She might even like Mike Russell more than him.

When Leonard objected to the review taking too long, she jabbed: ‘We have asked the independent review to give us a report by January, although I am not sure whether Richard Leonard will still be standing in his place by then.’

Ruth Davidson asked why an Indyref 2 Bill had priority over a schools Bill in the Programme for Government. Education was meant to be the number one priority.

Sturgeon rejoindered that this was because ‘on a basic matter of democracy, I believe that it is for the people of Scotland to choose their own future’. That’s quite the hostage to fortune she’s setting up. What happens when the people of Scotland want a vote on bringing back hanging or, worse, Phil Collins?

‘Fundamentally,’ the First Minister pronounced, ‘I believe in democracy.’

Sturgeon is mad keen on democracy. So much so that, when Alex Salmond stood down in 2014, she decided to give democracy a much-needed rest and just inherit the leadership of her party and the country from him.

Davidson circled back for another go on schools, specifically on plans by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to have students taught less this year.

‘The SQA will look closely at the curriculum and will listen carefully to the views that are being expressed,’ Sturgeon replied.

Well, as long as the important subjects are still offered: intersectional Gaelic and Scottish arithmetic. (‘If Johnny has four apples and a £15billion deficit, how much of his fiscal shortfall can he blame on Westminster?’)

The Tory group leader then went on a pronoun adventure: ‘It was her who said that education would be her number one priority… her who said that a flagship Education Bill was needed… her who said that closing the attainment gap was what she wanted to be judged by.’

Mercifully, when the parliamentary stenographers typed up Davidson’s remarks, they changed the hers to shes. Holyrood’s Official Report: the unlikely brake pad on the handcart to Hell.

Willie Rennie posed the not unreasonable puzzle that if Scotland’s Covid-19 response had been so stellar, why were Aberdeen and Glasgow under lockdown measures?

‘We all have to do our job maybe just a bit better,’ Sturgeon ventured. What’s all this ‘we’ business, First Minister? This is your job. You don’t get to cash out the successes and socialise the failures.

She sighed that Rennie should ‘learn a little bit more’ about contact tracing before interrogating her.

‘I am sorry if the First Minister does not like my asking such questions,’ the Lib Dem leader jabbed with faux sincerity.

The First Minister continues to take personal offence at MSPs using First Minister’s Questions to ask questions of the First Minister.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters:

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