Recess is over and the fun can begin
School was back after the summer and politicians returned from their holidays.
Some, like David Cameron, are unable to sneak off and stay out of the media’s glare during the summer months.
In fact it probably wasn’t the most satisfying of holidays for the PM, having first gone to Portugal – where he was reported to have got an ear infection – before heading to Cornwall, and being photographed in his wetsuit – forcing millions across the UK to question whether the country was definitely being run by an old Etonian, as we have been led to believe, and not some monstrous sea lion.
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They all took breaks. Yvette Cooper, apparently, went camping in the woods with Ed Balls, even if that sounds closer to the basic premise of a horror film than a holiday.
Ed Miliband, meanwhile, reacted to his resignation the same way a teenager responds to finishing high school. He grew a beard and went to Australia.
It is a wonderful image – a globe littered with politicians, all desperately trying to avoid bumping into each other during their time off.
But in Scotland, it’s back to business, with the SNP presenting its plans for the coming year.
Like Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon was also in Portugal, though she can’t have been away long. Maybe, still high on the success of her fox-hunting intervention at Westminster, she just took a week in the middle to interfere further in English-only matters – using her time off to mix up the bins in suburban Surrey, adding Gaelic to street signs and putting traffic cones on top of prized local statues.
The good news is that the need to announce the Programme for Government brought everyone back to the chamber.
The FM’s speech was extremely long, and it was tempting to wonder if Sturgeon herself was getting bored. But she perked up at the end, saying she was “determined that we harness the passion and energy that were shown in the referendum and use them to tackle the big social and economic issues of our times.”
Meanwhile Jackie Baillie read through the plans with a look of open derision – flicking through the pages with her glasses perched on the end of her nose, like a librarian marking down someone returning a dirty book two months late.
But it was Kezia Dugdale representing Scottish Labour. And given the leadership contest has only just finished, she can’t have had much of a holiday either. She used her time to slam the SNP record on literacy and numeracy levels. Though, of course, if Scottish numeracy levels are as bad as they appear, it is impossible to be sure the figures are right.
Questioning the lack of progress, Dugdale described Sturgeon as “the most powerful person who has ever sat in that chair. Not only does she have a majority in this parliament, she has swept aside her opponents in our other parliament. She has more powers than ever before, and more are coming.”
It sounded good, even if, in retrospect, it may be that she was confusing the FM with a dark wizard – rather than a former solicitor from Ayrshire.
But it was certainly exciting to be back after the recess. Alex Salmond grinned from the backbench, Mark McDonald bellowed for intervention after intervention, while Willie Rennie accused the government of denying reality – which was bold stuff given he also insists the Lib Dems are in with a chance come May.
Still though, something seemed missing – some glamour. Dugdale had earlier quoted US Vice President Joe Biden, saying: “Don’t tell me what you value… show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.”
But if Dugdale fancies herself as Joe Biden, who is the Obama of Scottish politics? The answer, clearly, is Stewart Stevenson.
He spoke near the end, after Patrick Harvie who – presumably fresh from living feral, naked in the wilderness, as all Green politicians do on holiday – questioned why the SNP’s plans neglected to mention tackling climate change.
And with Stewart Stevenson, the most maverick of Scotland’s MSPs, it is always hard to predict his approach. What would it be today? A trip down memory lane? A choice anecdote or two? No. It would be a lengthy point about the food available in his local area.
Swaying slightly from side to side, his hands clasped in front of him, he used his platform at the launch of the last Programme for Government before the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections to run through how good the garlic is in the north east. Next he talked about planning. Not because it was mentioned in Sturgeon’s speech (though it was) but because it also relates to food he has eaten in the past.
Still, at least he had a holiday. His face opening up, he confessed: “During the recess, our week away was in Plockton, which was an absolute delight. The town has 6 Mbps broadband, an airport and a railway station – three things that I do not have at home.”
Why would Stevenson have an airport, or a railway station, at his home? What did he do in Plockton? And why was any of this relevant?
Who cares. The holiday is over and the fun can begin.