Sketch: Fergus Ewing dreams of seaweed

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 22 September 2017 in Comment

Liam Kirkaldy on the latest Holyrood food and drink debate

Sketch 388 - Iain Green

Fergus Ewing has been eating seaweed again.

It was late on a Thursday afternoon and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy had been regaling the chamber with a story about some whisky he drank a while back.

In fact, not only has he drunk whisky, Fergus Ewing has also imbibed cider. “I have been a very lucky chap indeed,” he boasted. It was Thistly Cross Cider, apparently, and Ewing looked absolutely chuffed with himself, describing the experience as “a terrific success story”. Though, watching the tale unfold, it wasn’t altogether clear whether he was referring to the economic trajectory of the business or just his day out.


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It was then that he made the natural jump onto seaweed. That’s the thing about the Scottish Parliament’s food and drink debates, close your eyes and you can never be sure if you are listening to a largely aimless speech about one of Scotland’s growth sectors, or someone rambling at a bus stop.

Certainly, the image of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy loading up on whisky and cider then roaming Scotland’s beaches scooping seaweed into his mouth is an unforgettable one, and MSPs lapped it up, like Ewing with a bottle of Dunbar’s most successful ciders.

Continuing, he informed the chamber: “Members might not know this, but seaweed for consumption is stored in barrels.”

MSPs looked fascinated. “Each barrel is worth $1,000,” he said, “which means that one barrel of Scottish seaweed is worth 20 barrels of oil.”

Oh god. Suddenly it became obvious where things were going – this wasn’t a pleasant meandering anecdote at all. It was the basis of the next white paper on independence. 

With seaweed prices at a record high, Ewing had seized his opportunity. After all, it’s Scotland’s seaweed. But before Ewing could start railing against Westminster’s failure to establish a Seaweed Fund – to finance major infrastructure projects – Ewing started talking about a breakfast he once ate in Glasgow. 

Of course, some would question why any of this was happening at all. The answer, it seems, was that his examples – whisky, cider, seaweed and breakfast more generally – “typify what seems to be nothing short of a revolution in our food and drink sector”. 

Chuckling to himself, Ewing said: “I have not frequently advocated revolution, but whatever our political views about the desirability of revolution might be, I hope that the revolution in food and drink is one that we can all support.”

Well, indeed, and this was quite an important insight into Ewing’s principles. Though disinclined to support a change in the forces controlling the monopoly on violence in a given territory, he does support the revolution of a sausage on a grill.

It really was a hell of a speech. So what did the chamber make of it? Connoisseurs of Scottish Parliament food and drink debates will know there is more or less a formula for MSPs taking part. They stand up, talk about some of the food they like eating, say something weird, and then they remind everyone how important the industry is to Scotland.

Take Tory MSP Edward Mountain. Standing up, Mountain talked about Strathspey beef and barley, fruit from “the alluvial plains of Perthshire”, the “distinctive sheep and cattle” from the Highlands, and fish, generally. 

Great stuff. But he also had concerns, warning that “thanks to characters such as Rab C Nesbitt, it appeared that the traditional Scottish dining experience started and ended at the deep-fat fryer”.

Fortunately, Rab C Nesbitt’s dominance of the industry appears to have waned, though Mountain also had concerns over the fact revenue from the sector has fallen slightly.

But before he could go any further, the deputy presiding officer, Christine Grahame, was forced to intervene, telling Mountain she was getting “strange signals”.

This was undoubtedly true. Everyone was getting strange signals from Mountain – though it later turned out she was referring to his microphone.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant pointed out there was something wrong with the sound. Mountain offered to start again, causing looks of panic to spread across the chamber.

Luckily, SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon stepped in and started talking about whisky – Glencadam is from her home town of Brechin – before turning to the Forfar bridie, adding, “which I described to a foreign audience as a meaty puff of heaven”.

What the foreign audience made of that was left unsaid. Continuing somewhat conspiratorially, Gougeon told the chamber: “If anybody has still not tried one and would like to do so, please contact me and I will sort you out.”

So Gougeon is dealing now – great. It didn’t look like she had any Forfar bridies on her – you would think you would see them – but who knows. Maybe she carries them in special pockets on the inside of her coat, like a street hustler peddling knock-off watches.

Sadly, though, like a bottle of Ewing’s cider, the debate was finished all too soon. As Peter Chapman put it in closing, the industry’s future is “as bright as the premium alcoholic drink around the globe.” The Cabinet Secretary watched on, dreaming of seaweed.

 

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