Sketch: MSPs get lost in the dessert

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 17 November 2017 in Comment

Parliamentary sketch: A debate on immigration sees Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw forced to deny being a complicated type of pudding

Is Jackson Carlaw a Baked Alaska?

If it sounds like a weird question, it’s because it is. Scottish politics can be a confusing place, after all. Watching MSPs debating whether or not the Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs was actually a complicated dessert composed of ice-cream and cake covered with caramelised meringue, it was tempting to wonder what had gone wrong. How was this happening? And why? Are other parliaments like this?


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The debate was meant to have been on immigration, and Alasdair Allan’s statement – basically saying Scotland values EU migration, while desperately relying on it to prop up the economy – had gone well enough. Yet minutes later, everyone was shrieking and Carlaw was on his feet, denying being made of meringue.

As usual, a lot of the blame lies with Willie Rennie, who had questioned how Carlaw claiming that “nothing would be more unnatural to us than to plan for a future in which all that rich diversity [brought by immigration] was at risk” could be squared with his party’s plan, which is for a future in which all that rich diversity is at risk.

That might have sounded reasonable enough, but for Carlaw, it served to bring back some unpleasant memories. Speaking with the air of a child reporting a playground slight, he pointed at Rennie, complaining: “He was very unkind to me over the weekend when he compared me to a Baked Alaska.”

It was the first time someone in the parliament had been compared to a pudding in over six months and the chamber liked it. The problem was where Carlaw went next, continuing: “I was disappointed because we all know that little Willie’s own sponge has not risen for quite some time.”

Oh god. It was, frankly, disgusting. Even other Tory MSPs looked grossed out. In fact, the only person who seemed able to cope was Willie Rennie, who sat there cackling wildly.

To be fair, there had been some attempts at serious debate, with SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon highlighting how the Brexit stalemate had ruined the lives of EU citizens in Scotland.

She said: “It’s really hard not to get angry at those stories and at the fact we are now more than 500 days on from the referendum vote and there are still far more questions than answers on the future of EU citizens post-Brexit.”

Alright Mairi – if you love EU migrants so much, why don’t you marry one?

The answer to that is that she did – which really takes commitment to manifesto pledges to a new level. People get annoyed at politicians for saying one thing and doing another, but this is a new approach. Labour might have campaigned on the promise of loving the NHS, but none of them has ever tried to marry a hospital. Though in some ways, that might be easier, because Theresa May has never tried to deport a hospital. Not yet.

But Tory MSP Alexander Stewart took a bolder approach to his colleagues – well, not bolder than calling Willie Rennie a failed pudding – by questioning whether fiscal policy, rather than a total lack of control over migration policy, might be at the heart of the Scottish Government’s migration problems. If we want migrants, he said, “making Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom is not the right way to go about making sure that is the case.”

Members didn’t look convinced by that. But then perhaps it would be more convincing if cutting tax wasn’t already the Conservative solution to everything. From immigration to stimulating growth, cutting tax is literally their first solution to any problem. They even argue that cutting tax will bring in more tax, like some out-of-control barber arguing that cutting off your hair will make it longer.

And would cutting tax definitely boost immigration? Obviously it’s a complex area but one solution to boosting immigration would be to stop restricting immigration.

Kate Forbes came next, using her speech to invite everyone watching to move to her constituency. “It’s all happening in the Highlands,” she argued. A statement which, though possibly true, has yet to be formally confirmed.

Certainly some things are happening in the Highlands, no one would deny that, but as yet there’s no evidence that the things happening in the Highlands are all the things. Apart from anything else, Forbes was speaking in the chamber, outside of the Highlands, and that was just one thing.

Another thing that happened during Forbes’s thing was that Tory MSP Jamie Greene wanted to ask “whether she has any views on how we could help to tackle depopulation in the Highlands and islands by encouraging more people who were born and bred there to stay?”

There’s really two ways to take that. One is that Greene wanted to know how to improve prospects for the Highlands, and the other is that he was asking her – a Highland MSP who was currently standing in central Edinburgh – how they could go about making sure Highlanders stayed in the Highlands.

But Forbes seemed happy enough – unlike Willie Rennie, who, still stung by Carlaw’s attack, popped up to clarify that he hadn’t called Carlaw a Baked Alaska after all. He had actually called all Conservatives Baked Alaskas. Why? “Because they are light and fluffy on the outside, but cold hearted.”

“Today,” he announced, somewhat grandly for a man accusing political opponents of being a dessert, “they have proved that exact point”.

Had they, Willie? Had they? He looked delighted, but will it stop the Tories drastically curtailing migration through Brexit? The proof will be in the pudding.

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