The First Minister’s latest Covid update to parliament was an uncanny affair. MSPs heard that, although ‘we do still face tough times ahead’, there were ‘also grounds for optimism now’.
Reports of the Pfizer vaccine were ‘really good news’ and ‘extremely encouraging’ — ‘and that of course is not the only vaccine undergoing trials just now!’ It was ‘the most positive indication yet that science will get us out of this.’
This was not Nicola Sturgeon. It looked like her, moved like her, even did that weird little chuckle she does, but there was no way this was the First Minister. Maybe it was one of those Blade Runner deals where Harrison Ford got replaced by an android. This replicant was a good effort but altogether too upbeat to pass as our First Minister.
‘We are not at the end of the tunnel yet,’ she waxed, ‘but a glimmer of light has appeared. Yes, there will still be dips in the road, and that means the light might be obscured at times. But it is very much there and we are heading towards it.’
We hadn’t quite arrived at the broad, sunlit uplands but we were pulling into the motorway services two miles down the road.
The cod Churchillian language felt alien to Sturgeon’s natural speaking rhythms, which are more pedestrian and precise than Winnie’s rousing booms, and sounded like it had been written to satisfy a speechwriter’s vanity rather than enhance the speechmaker’s message.
(This is not to unduly single out Nicola Sturgeon. There is a dearth of good rhetoric in Scottish politics, where most ministers orate like the beleaguered complaints manager of a provincial leisure centre and most opposition MSPs like the complainers.)
Nevertheless, it’s hard to knock the artifice of her wording when the words themselves were such a lung-clearing relief to hear: ‘The sacrifices everyone is making are hard — and they feel never-ending — but they are helping. They have made a difference, and they are saving lives. I have no doubt about that, and no one should be in doubt about that.’
If it means I can order a pint at some point in the next year without having to provide the barman my name, address, credit score and grandmother’s first school report card, then the First Minister can try to pass herself off as Churchill, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama for all I care.
She can even give us her best Vera Lynn — ‘At some point, this will all be over; at some point, we will be looking back on it rather than living through it’ — but it would be more jolly all round if she got into the spirit of things and delivered such lines with a piano solo.
Of course, it couldn’t all be cheerful song and Sturgeon treated us to the old Covid songbook standards: ‘This is not the time to let down our guard’ and ‘We can look forward to brighter days in the spring’. For now, the sacrifice would endure.
Three council areas — Fife, Angus and Perth and Kinross — would be bumped up to tier three and with that their pubs would be forbidden to sell booze. This would be particularly grievous for residents of Perthshire, who will continue to have Pete Wishart as their MP but lose the necessary fortifications required to endure such tribulations.
Fortune was more favourable to residents of Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar, who would now ‘be able to meet one other household inside their homes, up to a strict maximum of six people’. Don’t all rush to organise a cèilidh at once.
North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie was none too pleased about his region being put on the lockdown naughty step. ‘Fife will want to know what we’ve got wrong,’ he complained to the First Minister.
So many potential answers. Wisely, she avoided all of them.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: firstname.lastname@example.org.