Sketch: Parliament shuts up shop

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 25 March 2016 in Comment

Parliamentary sketch: The last FMQs before the dissolution of parliament

Well, that’s about that. It’s all change in Scottish politics.  Actually, things have been winding down for a while. In fact, some of the biggest names in Scottish politics have already started their goodbyes.

And it wasn’t just Mr Q, Dennis Robertson’s assistance dog, who is retiring at the end of this session. Alex Salmond has already given his last speech in the Scottish Parliament.

There are basically two styles to Alex Salmond speeches. There is the gleeful, exuberant Salmond, that approaches speeches with the enthusiasm and charm of an octopus giving a hug, and there is sombre, statesmanlike Salmond, the one who goes around warning rocks not to melt in the sun. This one had both.


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He started off by talking through the devolution journey, saying, “when it was established there were real doubts as to whether the fledgling Parliament would stand the test of time”.

“Those questions are now over,” he said, “and the only question is about the pace at which the Parliament, the Scottish people, and their Government will assume further responsibility.

“Will that make us totally independent? Well, not in an absolute sense. All nations are interdependent, one upon the other. That fact of life does not change, regardless of Scotland’s status. However, the greater our independence, the greater our ability to impact on the political environment around us and the greater our power to determine the circumstances of our fellow citizens.”

This seemed to make sense. Scotland is not independent in an absolute sense, but it pretty much is in every other sense. Good job, Salmond, you won the referendum. Basically.

Salmond’s speech seemed to mark the end of an era, even if the last FMQs of the session started off much as normal.

Kezia Dugdale started off by reminding the First Minister she had previously campaigned to reintroduce the 50p tax rate, before refusing to implement it.

This seemed a smart move. After all, in the past, Dugdale’s approach to FMQs has resembled a plastic bag being blown into a lamppost. Sure, she keeps going, persistently, in the same direction, but it's hard to see any sort of underlying strategy.

So the Labour leader used a new tactic: instead of arguing with the FM on tax, get her to argue with a past version of herself.

And modern-day Sturgeon was very unhappy with the things past Sturgeon had to say. They were outrageous.

Unfortunately for Dugdale, the FM then pulled the same trick, quoting comments made by Dugdale which suggested the 50p tax rate could raise nothing.

Things went on, with the FM adding that a 50p tax “could actually reduce the amount of money that we have to invest in our National Health Service and our public services”.

“It would be reckless. It would not be daring. It would be daft.”

This, incidentally, is not just an argument used by modern-day Nicola Sturgeon and by 2015 Kezia Dugdale, and rejected by 2015 Nicola Sturgeon and modern-day Kezia Dugdale, but by George Osborne in the past, present and probably the future.  And so time travel certainly added a new angle to FMQs. It was the last session of Parliament and instead of arguing with each other, the two leaders were arguing with historical versions of themselves.

After that things went on more or less as normal. Mark McDonald and Stewart Maxwell heckled. Willie Rennie said Sturgeon was a force for the status quo. Patrick Harvie asked about land reform, prompting Alex Johnstone to collapse on his desk, head on his hands, and moan like a bear that has been stung by the introduction of a land value tax. But as ever in parliament, things moved from the absurd to sad quickly.

It was Tricia Marwick’s last session as Presiding Officer, and she did her best to add some semblance of order to proceedings.

Indeed, it says a lot about her faith in politics that she still sounds as outraged by the chamber’s unruly behaviour now as she did five years ago.

The leaders paid tribute. Marwick took deep breaths, biting her lip at one point, after promising she wouldn’t cry. She mouthed the words ‘thank you’ at each of the leaders, after their words, before waving to her family.

Salmond had ended his speech with the promise that “it is goodbye from me – for now”. It had sounded slightly threatening – as if he might start hanging around outside the chamber, handing out unsolicited advice on legislation or horseracing. But, unlike Salmond and Marwick, the majority of those in the chamber are seeking re-election.

They stood up and applauded the Presiding Officer as the session ended, hoping that their own goodbye to the chamber will be temporary.

After the speeches MSP Stuart McMillan turned up with bagpipes and played everyone out. Everyone seemed to think this was normal.

Big names might be leaving, but Scottish politics promises to be just as weird as ever.

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