Sketch: Lentils, watermelons and the budget

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 10 February 2017 in Comment

Parliamentary sketch: The brightest minds in Scotland debate the budget

Budget debates are one of Parliament’s grandest occasions, and in light of the new powers arriving in Holyrood, this debate took on extra significance. It was a chance for the brightest minds in Scotland to shine, with MSPs going head-to-head on questions of tax and spend, socialism and the free market, god and law, and whether or not Patrick Harvie is in fact a watermelon.

We never actually found out the truth of that, or of anything actually, and so if you’re reading this in the hope of getting answers, you might as well give up. But, like all good stories, the fact you won’t learn anything is no reason to stop reading.

Derek Mackay opened with the traditional long statement, before Kezia Dugdale responded with a passionate plea to use tax rises to invest in public services, telling Mackay “it would be wrong to take Tory austerity and pass it on to the poorest Scots”.


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Dugdale said: “I listened to the First Minister very carefully at lunch time, and she said to Ruth Davidson: ‘Given the pressure on public services as a result of Tory austerity, it would be wrong to cut taxes for the top 10 per cent’. I agree”.

On hearing this, a lot of people would have been surprised to learn that Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale have lunch together. But they do. They eat all their meals together.

In fact, what a lot of people outside the political bubble don’t know is that the leaders of Scotland’s political parties all live together in a big house. It may seem unbelievable, like some pointless lie, but it is actually true. They shout goodnight to each other at bedtime. Willie Rennie is kept in the attic and Ruth Davidson has her lair in the basement, full of busts of Thatcher and old WW2 memorabilia. The real question is why the media – who know all about this, by the way – don’t report it.

But instead of Davidson, it was left to Murdo Fraser to represent the Scottish Tories. “I start my remarks with an apology,” he said. “In last week’s budget debate, I referred to the leader of the Green Party as Patsy Harvie. I can only apologise to Mr Harvie for that gross calumny with regard to his character. We know today that it is not the Greens who are the patsies in the chamber but the entire SNP front bench.”

Was that definitely an apology? Who knows. Pointing across at Mackay, Fraser lamented: “What a pity and what a tragedy for Scotland that he chose to throw in his lot with the lentil-munching, sandal-wearing watermelons on that side of the chamber.”

Lentil-munching, sandal-wearing watermelons. There really was a lot going on in that sentence. And it was huge if true. What a sneaky trick for the Greens to pull. After all, Harvie’s party ran on the platform of being people, not watermelons, and the idea they would dress a watermelon up in a waistcoat and trousers then get it elected was sickening. Aside from all that, who knew watermelons ate lentils. It was bananas.

Of course, some would accuse Murdo Fraser of bellowing hysterically about a very minor tax change. One of those people was Willie Rennie, who pointed out the change would only see someone earning £100,000 pay £86 more than they would have paid under the SNP manifesto, and saying, “I do not think the government has given way a hell of a lot.”

You could tell things were fraught because Willie Rennie said “hell”. But Fraser rejected this and basically called Rennie a communist. Could have been worse, he could have been a satsuma or a kumquat or something.

Continuing his speech, Fraser recommended that Mackay should watch “the 1986 John Hughes classic, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, in which a young Matthew Broderick sits in a class of bored teenagers listening to Ben Stein’s economics teacher trying to explain to them the principles of the Laffer curve.”

“Has anyone seen that?” he asked, with the flourish of an 1980s’ observational comedian. “Anyone?”

Hilarity ensued, as you can imagine. Ivan McKee then intervened to read out a complicated question on the Laffer Theory, but Fraser said he hadn’t heard him properly so couldn’t answer it.

Patrick Harvie came next, rejecting Tory accusations of economic naivety. “They used to accuse us of believing in a magic money tree, but it is clear that they are in that position today.”

To be honest, it would be nice if there was just one debate in Holyrood in which someone didn’t start talking about “a magic money tree”, but at least he didn’t dwell on it, asking “how much more we could have achieved if a constructive approach had been taken by all opposition parties?”

This really enraged everyone, and some low-level pointing ensued. Iain Gray pointed at Patrick Harvie, who pointed at Kezia Dugdale, who pointed at the SNP. Harvie still hadn’t denied he’s a watermelon.

And yet, at the end, there was still little agreement. When it comes to tax policy, the Parliament is all apples and oranges. And Murdo Fraser.

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