Meet the new priority, same as the old priority

Nicola Sturgeon was re-elected as First Minister on May 18, 2021. This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of proceedings. 


In the least shocking election result since Kim Jong-un’s name was last on a ballot paper, Nicola Sturgeon was reappointed First Minister of Scotland at Holyrood yesterday. The SNP leader faced stiff competition from Douglas Ross, who spent an inordinate amount of his allotted time talking about dairy cattle, and Willie Rennie, who wondered why everyone couldn’t just get along.

Newly installed presiding officer Alison Johnstone has a cheery manner that I predict will last a month, maybe two. Ken Macintosh started out as a good-humoured fellow, too. By the end, he looked like a prematurely aged Great Dane shuffling to its final appointment with the vet.

Given there were only three candidates — let’s be honest, only one — you might have expected proceedings to be done and dusted promptly. It took an hour and ten minutes, including opening and closing speeches and suspensions for voting and counting. Because Holyrood has to be awkward, MSPs were balloted on each candidate separately, with the only option being to vote Yes or not at all. I understand the next independence referendum will be run along much the same lines.

Willie Rennie was up first. ‘There will be a two-minute division,’ Johnstone instructed, optimistically. He’d received all the votes he was getting before she finished the sentence.

Douglas Ross’s bid for the top job was much like Emmerdale in the Seventies: all farming and no drama. ‘When I was a child,’ he told the chamber, ‘people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I was older and my answer was always: I wanted to be a dairy farmer.’

I wanted to be an FBI agent, so I can hardly cast aspersions, but it’s almost endearing how blandly wholesome Douglas Ross is. He’s like Clark Kent if Clark Kent had been born in Kansas, never heard of the Planet Krypton and spent his life saving the world from nothing more apocalyptic than corn blight.

After reminiscing about his time at agricultural college, Ross admitted: ’I know there is literally more chance of one of my cows fulfilling the nursery rhyme of jumping over the moon than there is of me winning this vote today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.’

His pitch: ‘People across Scotland want to see us pulling together, not apart.’ People across Scotland would gladly never hear from the place again provided their bins got collected and GP appointments weren’t harder to acquire than a roll of Andrex during the first lockdown.

As well as referendums, Aberdeen-born Ross has a principled objection to the letter A. ‘Scotland huss to move on,’ he urged MSPs. ‘The parliament huss to take Scotland forward.’ Businesses, he warned, ‘huff felt ignored for far too long’. The Scottish government should do more to back ‘those who suffer at the hunds of criminals’.

When it came Nicola Sturgeon’s time, she vowed: ‘My first and driving priority will, indeed, be to lead us through the pandemic and into recovery’.

Let’s hope they don’t do international league tables for recovery. In fact, a few hours later it was announced that John Swinney, in charge of her other first priority since 2016, had been semi-sacked from the education brief. Semi because, although he has done for Scottish schooling what Nick Leeson did for Barings, he’s too important an ally for Sturgeon to dump outright.

So, he will now be Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery. His real job is Minister for Priorities: a loyal bruiser Sturgeon can stick in whatever portfolio is the most tricky at a given time, knowing that, while he won’t make the situation better and may well make it worse, he shouts loudly enough to keep critics at bay.

The Greens’ co-leader Lorna Slater talks like a motivational speaker at a bus stop. Her enthusiasm is admirable but everyone’s just waiting for the Number 17.

She marvelled at the increased representation across the chamber.

‘Will we, as a more diverse group, have a more positive working culture?’


‘Will there be more cross-party working?’


‘Will we be able to think long-term?’


‘I look across this debating chamber, Presiding Officer, and what I see is hope.’

I looked across the debating chamber and what I saw was Fergus Ewing with the expression of a middle-aged man in a proctologist’s waiting room.


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

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