Sometimes you can’t beat a Left-wing firebrand. Elaine Smith is an old-school socialist who speaks her mind where others might tread more delicately. There was nothing delicate about the Labour MSP’s broadside against the Scottish Government ahead of yesterday’s sham debate on Covid restrictions.
MSPs were meant to get a proper debate and a vote but ministers pulled a fast one. Smith used a procedural gambit to hold up parliamentary business and, although she knew her efforts would be in vain, she took her chance to tell the First Minister exactly what she thought about her performance of late.
She inveighed against the ‘completely unacceptable’ decision to keep parliament in the dark about ‘draconian’ new rules while briefing them to journalists. It was vital that MSPs could ‘scrutinise the effectiveness of the strict 16-day restrictions Scotland had been subjected to’ and said she had even tried to have parliament recalled last week to discuss the matter.
Smith was calm but unrelenting, rebuking ministers for their failure to consult while pouring scorn on the results of lockdown so far: ‘It’s not short and sharp because it doesn’t seem to have worked’.
Noting the impact on the hospitality sector, she ended with a plea to the rest of the chamber to take a stand, railing against the U-turn that denied MSPs a say. ‘We are merely observers,’ she decried. ‘What is the point in voting on the motion when we are being asked simply to note the government’s decisions?’
Finally, with a despairing sigh: ‘Why are other parties going along with that?’
It’s difficult to gauge the mood in the chamber these days but Smith was swiftly voted down, so her cri de coeur evidently failed to impress. Still, it was a tonic to see someone stick their head above the parapet and remind forelock-tugging MSPs how real parliaments are meant to behave.
When the debate proper got under way, Ruth Davidson told the First Minister she objected to the SNP motion ‘taking a swipe at the UK Government’ — but the Tories would be voting for it anyway. That’ll show ’em. Davidson at least brought along some practical ideas: a Covid business advisory council, improvements to data collection and a festive loneliness strategy.
Mind you, the latter is redundant. The First Minister has no intention of being depicted as the Grinch who stole Christmas. Whatever ministers say today, a way will be found to allow the masses to guzzle down their overcooked turkey and cremated roasties while raising a grateful glass to the founder of the feast, Ebenezer Sturgeon.
Not that she needs any more adulation. The self-congratulation is nearing Trumpian levels. ‘I’ve probably answered more questions than any leader of any government anywhere else in the world,’ she told Richard Leonard. She’s a great question-answerer — the greatest. Anyone saying otherwise is fake news.
When UK ministers dodged parliamentary scrutiny, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle read them the riot act. Yesterday, Ken Macintosh read out a statement with all the passion of a printer instructions manual. He is resigning at the next election, becoming the first presiding officer to vacate the chair before anyone noticed he was in it.
One after another the dead-eyed Yesbots got up to ‘fully welcome this strategic framework’ — the same pre-programmed turn of phrase was buzzed out each time. Fulton MacGregor, one of the newer-model automatons, cited a conversation with a worried medic and prated: ‘We must listen to people on the frontline’.
Neil Findlay, another stalwart of the Old Labour awkward squad, intervened to ask if he agreed that, as well as listening to frontline workers, we should also be regularly testing them. ‘Test and Protect is working well in Scotland,’ droned Dalek MacGregor.
Richard Leonard spoke of the plight of the hospitality sector and insisted that ‘some parts of the night time economy can be kept open’. It’s come to a pretty pass when the doughtiest defenders of Scottish business are all members of the Campaign for Socialism.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.