It’s not often Nicola Sturgeon makes you proud to be British but when the leader of the SNP stands up and declares the British Army to be ‘our Armed Forces’, you do think about getting out the Union Jack bunting.
The First Minister was being pressed by Ruth Davidson on the sluggish pace of the vaccine rollout in Scotland.
‘Any help that the Armed Forces give to Scotland… it’s not a favour from the Secretary of State for Scotland,’ she told the Tory leader, before blurting out: ‘It’s our Armed Forces!’ That might not go down well in her ranks, where some still refer to the Union Flag as the Butcher’s Apron and sing about British soldiers going on home rather than coming on in.
Still, if Nicola Sturgeon is going to hymn the efforts of squaddies helping her government get caught up with vaccinations, it would be churlish not to join in…
Meanwhile, Jackie Baillie took up the cause of vulnerable pensioners left in the dark about their Covid jab, including ‘Kate’ from Fife and ‘Margaret and Bill’, also from the Kingdom. Putting names to the Scottish Government’s failings was clever, and evidently irked Sturgeon, who rejoindered: ‘Perhaps Jackie Baillie wants to turn her mobile phone off as well while I answer her question.’
Baillie is a tough cookie and attacks are soon brushed off – and returned twofold.
In that oh-so-reasonable tone she adopts while getting stuck in about her opponents, she contended: ‘It is becoming harder to work out how the Scottish Government measures success in the vaccine programme. Our vaccine rollout is much slower than England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
‘The First Minister quite rightly says it’s not a competition between nations but I have to say to her: it is a race against the virus and we are not going fast enough.’
The interim Labour leader reminded Sturgeon of Calamity Jeane’s pledge to vaccinate one million Scots before the end of January. This was, apparently, most unsporting of her.
Sturgeon objected: ‘Jackie Baillie talks about things the Health Secretary said in November. In November, we didn’t even have an authorised vaccine for use, so we were estimating on what we thought.’
Or, to translate from the Sturgeon: ‘We didn’t have a vaccine but spun a big number anyway because I wanted some nice headlines.’
Tory MSP Liam Kerr raised the blight of shop closures in Aberdeen city centre and queried how the First Minister was going to encourage new retailers to open.
‘I’m going to resist the temptation to assume responsibility for filling individual shop units in every town and city. It is an important question and I don’t mean to minimise it,’ she said, minimising it.
As she spoke, the benches to her right rumbled in dispute.
‘Presiding Officer, I’m struggling to hear with all the chatting that’s going on,’ she protested.
‘Yes, but the trouble is, First Minister, the trouble was caused by the Deputy First Minister heckling the Labour benches, so I would encourage all members to behave themselves in this situation,’ he shot back.
Blimey. Someone had put a few quid in Ken Macintosh’s meter.
Sturgeon glanced at Swinney and broke into a giggle. ‘I will speak to him later, Presiding Officer,’ she chuckled, then admitted: ‘I have completely lost my train of thought, which probably means I should sit down.’
Macintosh called time, prompting Baillie to bound up with a dig gussied up as a point of order: ‘The First Minister said earlier that people can contact the helpline if they have questions about their vaccinations.
‘People are emailing me right now to say they’re trying and they’re not getting answers about appointments. Margaret, from Fife, who I referenced earlier, has just phoned the helpline to be told a letter will be sent soon but nobody knows when.’
No wonder Sturgeon didn’t want her looking at her phone.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.