Boomerangs fly at the Scottish budget debate
Sketch: Events escalate quickly as the chamber talks tax
Neil Findlay jumped to his feet and started bellowing incoherently across the chamber. John Swinney bellowed incoherently back. Everyone else joined in.
If Scottish politics can be criticised for having more heat than light, watching the budget debate was like being locked in a boiler room blindfolded. There has been much interest in how new powers will affect Scottish politics. If this was anything to go by, it will be louder and angrier.
It really was awful. It was like a collision between rival stag nights. Only using real stags.
Jackie Baillie represented Labour. “The budget before us is an austerity budget,” she said, “and so far it is clear that John Swinney has chosen to pass austerity on, rather than break from it.”
Mark McDonald intervened. If Baillie is so opposed to the budget, he asked, why did the Finance Committee – of which she is a member – unanimously back it?
McDonald thought he had trapped her, but Baillie wasn’t having any of it. Like a jellyfish sliding off a rock, she had an escape plan, at least of sorts. She told McDonald, with a glitter of triumph in her eye, that she had not even turned up at that committee meeting! How do you like that, McDonald?
Some of the SNP MSPs, to judge from their hooting, seemed to question if this explanation was as good as Baillie thought it was. The chamber, yet again, was transformed into a wall of noise.
Murdo Fraser – the only person present who seemed to be enjoying himself – chuckled away silently. “It gladdens my Tory heart,” he said, “to hear those self-proclaimed social democrats and political progressives on the SNP benches arguing so vigorously and passionately against increases in taxation.”
Huh. He has a heart. He admitted it.
Fraser continued: “Conservative members are happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with the SNP... to coin a phrase, we are happy to be better together with the SNP on this issue.”
Ah, that was it. He was trolling them. The SNP looked close to boiling point. But the moment called for cool heads. Someone with wisdom. Someone who could rise above the idiotic, depressing, pointless howling.
That person was Chic Brodie. So how did Brodie calm things down? He likened Willie Rennie to the man responsible for the death of Jesus.
Somehow managing to look like he was swaggering while standing stock still, he said budget cuts were the Lib Dem leader’s fault. “Willie Rennie did his Pontius Pilate job of saying, ‘It’s nothing to do with me, guv.’ He obviously does not understand the economic cycle, or he would get on it.”
Did Pontius Pilate ever argue for a 1p rise in income tax? Or use the word ‘guv’? Brodie did not elaborate. He had other, equally baffling, comments to make. But he didn’t get far. Lewis McDonald intervened, asking, if Brodie viewed income tax as regressive, what did he consider progressive?
Brodie didn’t like that, shooting back: “When I get questions like that, it reminds me that the weapons of Labour and its associates are boomerangs.”
This sounded like a good line, even if it seemed to reveal a basic lack of understanding of boomerangs. They were invented as weapons. Presumably, Brodie was not complimenting Labour, which would suggest that he knows less about aboriginal hunting than he does about Pontius Pilate.
Next, he boasted: “We are continuing to pursue national security.”
National security is a reserved issue. Brodie’s comment was only true in the sense that the SNP is pursuing independence, which would then mean controlling national security. Maybe he could get Labour’s boomerangs for the army.
Next, Linda Fabiani questioned the efficacy of income tax as a lever, describing it as “a blunt instrument”. Baillie shot back that Labour had “sharpened that instrument”. It sounded a bit threatening.
Someone had to calm things down. It was up to James Kelly, statesman.
He started off with an olive branch. “The problem with the SNP,” he opined, “is that in this debate all the bravehearts and all the progressive voices have been silenced.”
Brilliant. Braveheart references. Everyone started shrieking again. Kelly, attempting a conciliatory air, bellowed: “Look at them all! They are all meek now!” No one looked that meek. They were all screaming.
Fabiani, looking to burst Kelly’s bubble, asked why Labour “had voted with the Tories last year to enact £30 billion of spending cuts.”
Kelly was ready for that, quipping, “Maybe Ms Fabiani should get into the Tardis and join us in this time and place.”
The Tardis? What Tardis? There was no Tardis. What did Kelly mean? What did any of it mean? From Pontius Pilate to Doctor Who, it felt like the references were piling up. Though if William Wallace could time-travel you have to assume he would not have been executed. The debate was going round in circles. Like a boomerang.
But there was no time to investigate what Kelly, or indeed anyone, was talking about. The debate wound up, and the chamber members still looked raging. Money, it seems, does not lead to happiness.
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The report by Tom Harris was commissioned by Abellio, who currently run ScotRail