It’s all happening at the Holyrood zoo

DEFIANT: Nicola Sturgeon took on critics in no-confidence vote.

Nicola Sturgeon faced a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament on March 23, 2021This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of proceedings. 


There are many Nicola Sturgeons, one for every audience and every occasion. Sturgeon the Folksy and Sturgeon the Forensic, Sturgeon the Indignant and Sturgeon the Triumphalist.

MSPs were voting on all of these Sturgeons in yesterday’s confidence debate but it was Sturgeon the Battler who turned up. 

She wore the James Hamilton report as her armour and wielded a sense of righteous vindication as her weapon. 

‘There are some in this chamber who decided before a single word of evidence had been heard that I was guilty in relation to the handling of complaints against the former First Minister,’ she intoned. ‘The only question was what they would choose to find me guilty of.’

The general gist was that Hamilton’s findings had to be accepted without question, whereas the committee’s were up for debate.

Sturgeon went all out on the Tories: ‘If they think that they can bully me out of office, they are mistaken and they misjudge me. If they want to remove me as First Minister, they should do it in an election.’

‘The past year has been exhausting for everyone,’ she told the chamber. ‘I do not mind admitting that the intensity and gravity of decision-making has taken its toll.’ That toll weighed under her eyes and a shattered John Swinney’s too. Everyone involved in this saga looks like they could do with six weeks on a beach somewhere. In fact, they are heading into six weeks of bare-knuckle electoral combat.

Once committee members started belting into one another, all hope of decorum was out the window. Nationalist Alasdair Allan quipped: ‘To say that our committee leaked like the Titanic would be to do a considerable injustice to Harland and Wolff – the Titanic leaked only once.’

To the assertion that the committee’s report was ‘partisan’, Labour’s Jackie Baillie pointed out that all the opposition parties plus an independent had backed it. ‘The four SNP members who voted together were never, despite what they may have heard, going to vote to criticise the First Minister,’ she charged.

The effort to cast a ruthless political bruiser like Nicola Sturgeon as the victim in all this, with the obligatory but fleeting reference to the actual alleged victims, was taken up with vim by Swinney, who said he and Sturgeon had ‘sat in close quarters for many years’. Something, of course, that could be said about both of them and Alex Salmond.

‘I have always known that I was dealing with an individual of integrity, character, responsibility and devotion to serving the people of this country,’ he said of his boss. ‘She has given every ounce of her energy to protect the people of this country over these past trying 12 months of Covid.’

The last thing she deserved, he scolded, ‘is this grubby motion from the Conservatives’. Throughout his testimonial, Sturgeon rested her face on her hand and stared down. There were no tears but she was obviously touched.

Patrick Harvie, the angriest little cabbage in all the land, squealed that the inquiry had ‘descended into farce’ and that it had been ‘a deliberate choice’ by people ‘who have nothing to offer the people of Scotland’.

Sizzling away, like ethically-sourced bubble ’n’ squeak, he snarled: ‘They looked at the devolved institutions, saw a high level of public trust in them and could not bear it, so they set about trying to drag everything down to their level.’

Because we haven’t had enough conspiracy theories.

Labour took fright and decided to abstain. This somewhat undercut the moral force of Anas Sarwar’s remarks. Even so, his speech was uncommonly good. ‘Scotland deserves a better government and a better opposition,’ he said. 

Much of the debate was scored to the hoots and howls, badgering and barracking of the SNP benches. It sounded more like the hyena enclosure at the zoo than a national parliament. Scotland deserves better than the lot of them.


Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol]

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