David Coburn arrives at the Scottish Parliament
Parliamentary sketch: Ukip's Scottish MEP appears in front of the European and External Relations committee
David Coburn’s appearance in front of a Holyrood committee was always going to be special.
For anyone who has never seen Scotland’s Ukip MEP, just picture someone who looks and dresses like Toad of Toad Hall, but has far less tolerance of woodland creatures. Then imagine that Toad of Toad Hall had been elected to the European Parliament, and hated being there.
He had arrived at the European and External Affairs Committee in a tweed deerstalker and matching Inverness cape, surrounded by the sort of entourage that would make a gangster rapper jealous.
And the Sherlock Holmes get-up was no coincidence. The committee was getting an update on events in the EU, and Coburn was in a mood to hunt down the truth. First the committee took evidence on the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Tory MEP Ian Duncan outlined how far away from any sort of an agreement the EU and US are.
SNP MEP Ian Hughton raised concerns over the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism, which critics suggest would allow big business to sue governments.
Labour MEP Catherine Stihler emphasised that, although there were serious concerns over TTIP, we still have no idea what the final deal will look like.
Ukip MEP David Coburn said the European Union is an impediment to all of our lives.
Seafood, he said, “is a massive industry in the world and the Spanish are making an absolute mint out of it, and we are not getting anything out of it”.
Last year Scottish seafood exports were estimated at £613m.
It was the SNP’s fault, he said. “I believe that the SNP is not a nationalist party. It is an international socialist party.”
This was the first real test of chair Christina McKelvie. She didn’t seem too surprised, replying somewhat wearily, “I think it is clear that my definition of nationalist is very different from yours.”
Stihler then asked Coburn if he had actually read any of the draft TTIP documents. He said he had not, but he knows someone who has, and they told him we should leave the EU.
Unfortunately by this point, the discussion on Coburn’s opinion of the EU seemed to have become bogged down in talk about TTIP.
Sir Jamie McGrigor, Tory MSP, trout farmer and 6th Baronet, followed, looking pleased that, for once, he was not the most eccentric person in the room.
After that is was Willie Coffey, who took a startling new approach for an SNP politician and started talking about polls. Did Coburn realise the EU was really quite popular? Coburn disputed that, before cleverly pointing out that Scotland had voted no to independence.
“Would we really want an international border at Gretna Green?” he asked. “I really don’t think so.” It showed a remarkable degree of cunning on Coburn’s part to realise that was what Coffey had been getting at.
Perhaps concerned things were getting out of hand, Hanzala Malik followed to ask if TTIP would make rural broadband any better, and to chastise Coburn for repeatedly referring to ‘businessmen’. Women work in business too, Malik pointed out.
Coburn took this pretty badly. It was, obviously, another example of political correctness gone mad.
First, he responded to the point on broadband. “The Chinese are going to put somebody on Mars and we cannot even get our broadband sorted out,” he said.
Defending his comments on women, he said: “We don’t discuss womankind. Mankind is a genus.”
McKelvie pointed out a lot of people say ‘humankind’.
Coburn looked openly baffled by that. “Women,” he said, “are a special sort of a man.”
Neither the special sort of men nor the ordinary sort around the committee looked very impressed.
Perhaps keen to forestall any criticism, he added, “I don’t do political correctness.”
His committee appearance would suggest he rarely does any type of correctness. But before things got too controversial, the committee moved on to the refugee crisis. Surely a Ukip politician couldn’t put his foot in it there?
He started off by claiming that “the vast majority” of those arriving in Europe are “economic migrants”.
“I don’t blame them. If I was living in one of these awful countries I’d be getting my family together and coming over. But the problem is it’s just not possible for us to have unlimited numbers of people coming over.”
“We need to look after our own people too,” he said.
We never actually found out exactly how Coburn plans to help people close to home, because he spent the entire appearance listing reasons why we should leave the EU.
In fact it’s curious how the people who make the argument about ‘helping people close to home first’ seem to spend so little time doing it.
And as to whether Coburn’s appearance will help Ukip’s polling in Scotland, that remains to be seen.
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