Sketch: The rise of Willie Rennie Mackintosh

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 6 September 2019 in Comment

Ruth Davidson's departure as Scottish Tory leader has led to some innovative new plans for saving the union

Image credit: Iain Green

Ruth Davidson’s resignation speech went very well, with the only disruption coming in the shape of a photographer trying to escape halfway through, only to discover someone had locked the doors.

Driven by mysterious reasons to get out the room as fast as possible, he started rattling at the locked exit, while desperately trying to avoid attracting attention. “Shit!” he said, before expanding to add: “Shit!” “Shit!” “Shit!”

It was a good point, well made. But with the party’s leader having made a more successful escape, it was natural that some began to question what her departure would mean for Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives, as well as for the wider union.

For Ruth Davidson’s Adam Tomkins, the answer is forming a new political party based on something similar to Better Together. And, like Better Together, the party would probably mean the end of the Scottish Labour Party.

As Tomkins put it, in the Mail on Sunday: “It could be the Scottish Liberal Unionists. I quite like the name Enlightenment. But I’m not wedded to a name.”

It could be whatever you want, Adam, given it’s entirely based in your own imagination. Tomkins continued: “Do I want to speak to people in Labour and the Lib Dems? Yes, of course I do.”

So, in short, Tomkins’ plan is to try and win votes from other parties. It’s quite odd no one thought of it before. Why stop at the unionist parties? Add in the SNP’s votes and he’d be in power for years.

Unfortunately, though, it seems there are elements in opposition parties who aren’t just going to do whatever Adam Tomkins tells them to, and within a day of Davidson’s resignation, both Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard were out on the streets with their own pleas for the union.

That too represented a change of policy from Labour, at least in the sense they decided to campaign publicly. And, in troubling news for Tomkins, it seems Corbyn has been doing some cross-party work of his own.

So what’s the plan? “I met with the leaders of all the other opposition parties, with the exception of the DUP, in my office,” he boasted. “I provided them with coffee and good quality biscuits. They drank the coffee and enjoyed the biscuits and then thanked me for having the meeting.”

It was more detail on biscuits than you’d expect in a time of national crisis, to be honest. I gave them good quality biscuits and coffee of an unspecified standard. They enjoyed them and are alive and well. No harm will come to them. I may get them sandwiches. Why was Corbyn presenting the statement in the style of a hostage taker providing an update on the welfare of their captives? It was genuinely unclear.

Yet the Labour leader’s attempts to bamboozle didn’t end there, with Corbyn using his speech to throw another few curveballs at an already confused and frightened electorate, by using his appearance in Glasgow to pay tribute to “the heritage of Willie Rennie Mackintosh”.

It may have been a slip of the tongue, and who knows how much time Corbyn spends with Willie Rennie on the brain, but when you think about it, it actually looks like a very good plan from Rennie’s point of view, given Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s enduring popularity.

It’s an easy mistake to make, but there’s actually a very easy test for anyone unsure which one they are dealing with. Ask yourself, are they a famous architect responsible for several of Glasgow’s most striking buildings, or are they standing in a field, laughing hysterically as they try to wrestle a sheep into submission? Are they best known for their enduring influence on European design styles, or for standing in front of some pigs having sex? If you don’t know by that point, something’s gone badly wrong.

But still, it’s a great strategy, combining Willie Rennie’s cheerful bonhomie with an eye for design. The only question left is how Corbyn’s plan would help in the Labour-Tory-Lib Dem cross-party effort to save the union, and actually, there’s a very simple answer to that.

Ask yourself: who could be more popular than Willie Rennie Mackintosh? Richard Leonard da Vinci? No, Willie Rennie-Ken Macintosh, that’s who.

The advantages are obvious, with a merger of the two politicians combining Ken Macintosh’s calm, no-nonsense approach to presiding over the parliament with Rennie’s campaigning zeal. It’s a much better plan than Tomkins’ attempts to merge opposition parties.

And the science may well be within our reach, with the 1986 hit film The Fly offering one potential solution. In the film Jeff Goldblum finds himself merged with a fly, after a teleportation-based experiment goes wrong, and it’s hard to escape the sense that this probably represents the most effective solution for the Lib Dems at this point. Particularly if they can get Jeff Goldblum involved.

The risk – as demonstrated by the plot of the film – is that something goes wrong, and a fly, or Alex Cole-Hamilton, gets trapped inside the transporter. Could transforming Willie Rennie into a half-man, half-fly represent the best way to repair the reputation of the Lib Dems and save the union? No one can know for sure, but instinct says: probably.

Of course, whether MSPs would tolerate being presided over by a Macintosh-Rennie-human fly hybrid remains unclear, but it’s still better than Tomkins’ approach.

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