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Parliamentary sketch: winter wondering

Parliamentary sketch: winter wondering

If questions have ever been raised about the standard of Scotland’s MSPs, at least they know how to party. A recent debate on Scotland’s winter festivals proved as much.

Fiona Hyslop, probably fresh from some all-night winter rave, started things off with a pretty outrageous claim, saying: “Scotland’s winter festivals have three primary objectives: to celebrate and showcase our unique culture and creativity at home and across the globe; to boost tourism and the visitor economy; and to engage communities and enhance national pride.”

Now anyone who has celebrated a traditional Scottish New Year will know this to be a blatant lie. Despite the pretence, Scotland’s ‘winter festivals’ have one primary objective, not three, and it certainly does not involve enhancing anyone’s pride – national or otherwise. Enhancing national shame, perhaps.

Claire Baker then followed Hyslop to point out how much fun Halloween is, and to suggest they consider that when discussing winter festivals.

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, though, did not agree.

She said: “I appreciate the important points Claire Baker made about local and community festivals, but I am not sure that I agree with the idea of extending winter so that it starts at Halloween – winter is too long and dark as it is.”

To be fair to Baker, it was not clear she had actually suggested extending winter as a policy. Anyway, ‘controlling the weather’ is not a devolved power.

In fact at this point it seemed that Hyslop might have been confusing Baker’s vision for Scotland with that of the White Witch from Narnia. 

And while Jim Murphy has received some pretty fierce criticism from the SNP, even his most hysterical critics have never actually accused him of planning to introduce eternal winter as a constitutional reality. Surely someone would have noticed if ‘always winter, never Christmas’ was part of ‘The Vow’?

Admittedly, eternal winter may seem like a terrible idea – as impractical as it is frightening – but then so was using PFI to pay for hospitals.

On the other hand, most of Scandinavia has long winters, so the SNP may well be willing to consider the Narnia model. Also we know the party likes extreme justice reform; replacing the police force with a gang of talking wolves could well be next.

Fortunately, the debate was not bogged down on this, with Stewart Stevenson – widely considered the Aslan of Scottish politics – on his feet to move things along.

"At this point it seemed Hyslop might have been confusing Claire Baker’s vision for Scotland with that of the White Witch from Narnia"

Many parliaments celebrate their longest serving member as the ‘father of the house’ but Stevenson is probably closer to its slightly embarrassing uncle.

The MSP for Banff and Buchan then followed by taking his colleagues on a long, meandering trip down memory lane. In his case, it is a pretty surreal lane.

Sadly, he had been informed that time was restricted, so was only able to cover the absolute essentials, beginning with a story about the time he worked for the Post Office and had to carry a ‘larger than usual’ post bag.

With only four minutes to speak, he couldn’t spend as much time on the bag as everyone would have liked. Aslan was on the move.

Shaking his grisly mane, the King of Beasts continued on winter festivals.

“Let me gently tweak the tail of the Tories, because when their amendment talks about strategies it is at odds with my instincts. I do not think that this is about strategies at all.”

This seems undoubtedly true, even if it is not immediately obvious what Stevenson, a man who approaches sharing information in the manner of Rumpelstiltskin, does think about. 

But there was no time to speculate. He continued: “I am not expressing the view of my political colleagues,” (when was that ever true?) “but I just think that winter offers an opportunity for individuals to enjoy themselves and for communities and little groups to get together.”

This did not seem a particularly provocative point. Was Stevenson saying the SNP is now opposed to people meeting up and enjoying themselves? It really was not at all clear. But by this point he was in full flow, jumping from topic to topic like some sort of berserk gibbon. Next he was talking about his parents’ sex life.

“January is something for which I feel a particular affection, because I was born on 15 October. Members of a gynaecological disposition will think about that carefully and work out why I feel as I do. My brother was born on exactly the same day three years after me, so my parents clearly shared my enthusiasm for the old new year.”

Really, Stewart?

“I am drawing on my considerable experience when I say that I regret that there was no snow this winter – not every minister in the Government will agree with me on that. When I watched my great niece and her brother pulling a sledge in Denmark over Christmas, I felt really jealous.”

Unfortunately there was no more time to explore his envy of little children, or much else, because it was Hanzala Malik’s turn to speak, choosing the debate as an ideal moment to boast to the chamber about his lunch.

“I look forward to my vegetarian or halal haggis, which I assure members that I enjoy.”

Elaine Murray then followed with a fairly crushing assessment of winter. It may have been that Stevenson’s speech had killed her spirits.

“At this time of year in northern countries such as ours, the nights are long. The sun, when it appears, does not rise much above the horizon. Many of the trees are bare and the plants have died back.”

Still, despite Murray’s nihilism, the debate at least seemed to bring the chamber together, even if it was unclear what conclusions were reached. 

Who said MSPs couldn’t organise a piss up at a street party?  

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