Sketch: MSPs set out their priorities for the next term

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 3 June 2016 in Comment

Parliamentary sketch: The first session back was all about cooperation

For new MSPs, the first real debate since the election was an opportunity to comment on the great questions of our day. So what would it be? A speech on the constitutional issue? A view on federalism? Perhaps a discussion of the implication of new tax powers, and the return of debates over revenue to Scotland, for the first time in 300 years?

For new Tory MSP Maurice Golden, it was a chance to talk about how much he likes recycling, then about the time he and Annabel Goldie once met a golden eagle – an incident he called “Golden, Goldie and a golden eagle”. It sounded like quite a nice children’s book.

Continuing, he said the Golden Trio proved “public relations stunts have been a feature not just of the most recent Scottish parliamentary campaign.” At the mention of PR stunts, he noticed Ruth Davidson staring at him and quickly added, “I say that to Willie Rennie.” Willie Rennie smiled on. He was probably thinking about the golden eagle.


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The debate was a chance for MSPs to lay out their priorities for the coming term. It just turned out they had some pretty weird priorities.

Nicola Sturgeon started off by listing what she will do, before requesting cross-party cooperation from across the chamber. She said: “I will do everything that I can to harness that consensus”, in much the same way that someone running a protection racket might request consensus from local shopkeepers.

Self-styled official opposition leader Ruth Davidson used her platform to warn against the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats “ganging up to form a new high-tax alliance”. Gangs don’t normally organise around tax policy. It’s usually turf wars and stuff, but that’s devolution for you.

She said: “If those parties want to keep charging up the valley of death, please be my guest.”

The Charge of the Light Brigade. It was an evocative image, even if, as references go, it isn’t that current. Also it’s hard to say how much Green, Labour and Lib Dem party members base their strategy on Crimean war tactics.

Next, Davidson criticised SNP cuts to college funding. John Swinney countered her argument by repeatedly bellowing the word “wrong!” at her. You can see why Sturgeon moved him to her priority area.

“We will oppose when necessary and propose when required. That is the strong opposition that Conservative members will offer over the coming five years, and we will do so with a clear goal in mind: to ensure that Scotland gets the better government that we deserve.”

That seemed a good plan. A better government is certainly better than a worse government. Unless you wanted a worse government, in which case that would obviously be better. It was bold of Davidson to take a stand.

But things quickly returned to normal. Joan McAlpine talked about how she never talks about the constitution, and accused the opposition of constantly going on about the constitution. In fact, she ran out of time talking about how she never talks about the constitution.

Kezia Dugdale talked about a robot she met named Baxter. It was fairly standard stuff. Dugdale quoted David Bowie, saying, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming,” before asserting: “Just before Christmas, I stepped into the future.”

It sounded more like she had stepped into drugs, but she soon clarified. It turned out, by “the future”, she meant Edinburgh University’s Informatics Department.

But she really seemed to like this robot, with the Labour leader announcing brightly, “Baxter and I built a battery pack.”

He handed her things, she said. “Baxter could pass me tools and follow my instructions,” she boasted.

Gordon Lindhurst, Tory MSP for the Lothians, then spent a good bit of time talking about how it used to be harder to contact people than it is now. The story began in the 1970s and then continued in what seemed to be more or less real time.

“When my mother wanted to speak to my gran she would phone my gran’s neighbours, the Browns, and tell them when she would phone back,” he recalled. “Mr or Mrs Brown would then cross the road and tell my gran when my mother would be phoning. If that worked, all was well. If it did not work, the procedure just repeated itself until my mum got my gran at the neighbours’ house.”

He continued, drily: “In those days of no internet, no emails, no mobile phones and – dare I say it? – no Scottish Parliament, that was an accepted way of life, but it is inconceivable in modern Scotland.”

At this point, a chilling realisation dawned: Lindhurst was planning on listing everything that didn’t used to exist, but now does exist. After that he started listing places he had visited that have improved their technology.

Derek Mackay was charged with summing up, with the new Finance Secretary continuing the theme of seeking cross-party consensus.

Patrick Harvie asked if he would give way. Mackay said he didn’t have time “on this occasion”. Harvie said: “There will be other occasions.” Mackay echoed: “There will be many other occasions.”

Then Willie Rennie asked if he would give way. Mackay said: “Not on this occasion”, but there was no mention of other occasions.

Let the cooperation begin.

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