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Sketch: Angus Robertson is a lonely man

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Angus Robertson is a lonely man

Angus Robertson is a lonely man. While he’s busy behind the scenes, working away on white papers that no one will read and clamping down on state-funded pornography, he is also lamenting the fact that his phone never rings.

“Most of my UK Government colleagues have my phone number, I’m not difficult to reach,” he tells the Scottish Affairs Committee as it takes evidence for its inquiry into intergovernmental relations. Why does no one want to talk to him?

“I am more than content to meet with colleagues,” he continues, it’s just that no one wants to be in a room with him. Get out the tiny violin. “More often than not, letters that ask for meetings aren’t even replied to,” he adds. Robertson simply cannot get over the rudeness of not replying – at least send an RSVP. “The idea that you just wouldn’t bother replying…” He’s so aghast that he can’t finish the sentence.

But he’s “pleased to be here and thank you for the invitation”, he tells the committee. Finally, someone to talk to!

MPs are actually gathering to hear about how the Scottish and UK governments are working together, not Robertson’s dismal social life. The picture the constitution secretary paints is not a positive one – but of course it is entirely the fault of UK ministers and absolutely no blame can be apportioned to him or his colleagues.

He cannot fathom why UK ministers might be avoiding him

He accuses Tory ministers of causing “damage to the devolution settlement”, warning it is “under threat as never before”. He can provide “chapter and verse” on the many ways the UK Government has undermined its relationship with the devolved administration, he preaches from atop a pulpit he’s built from his own ego.

This is, he says, “reflective of a state of mind in Whitehall”, that “devolved administrations are to be managed, to be put in their place”. If they cared, “they’d turn up” to one of the many events Robertson organises. “It does not have to be like this,” he adds solemnly. He does not like to be ignored. And he’s absolutely adamant that his voice is worth listening to – he cannot fathom why UK ministers might be avoiding him.

“I think you’re right,” the absolutely neutral chair of the committee, SNP MP Pete Wishart, agrees. Though to be fair, SNP politicians agreeing with each has become a bit of a novelty these days. “Is it Brexit that’s caused these difficulties?” Wishart wonders rhetorically.

Well, Brexit was an “accelerant”, replies the cabinet secretary. But the UK Government was always the villain in the Angus Robertson Show. Robertson, naturally, casts himself as the hero. For example, the time he encouraged his culture minister counterparts in other devolved governments to get on with delivering together, after hearing nothing from the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Dangerous ground for Robertson to veer into since Scotland’s arts body had apparently greenlit a sexy film to be made on the taxpayer dime. Perhaps porn is one of those growth areas we’re often hearing about.

He’s not here to talk about sexual relations; he’s here to talk about intergovernmental relations

Douglas Ross, Scottish Tory leader and MP, is keen to talk some more about the explicit film. It’s a “serious issue,” he adds. But Robertson would rather sidestep the matter. He’s not here to talk about sexual relations; he’s here to talk about intergovernmental relations.

But Alan Brown, another SNP MP, has a pitch. He’s heard about something called “muscular unionism”, which sounds like quite a niche, even on the tallest of top shelves. Lib Dem Wendy Chamberlain is so startled by the thought that she sends her water jug flying.

Robertson does the rhetorical equivalent of taking a cold shower to get rid of sexy thoughts and mentions Michael Gove. The Union-defender is good on rhetoric, the MSP says, but had “never ever dealt with the substance”. Gove, all talk and no substance? Who’d have thunk it? Though ironic that it is Robertson calling this out. What is that quote about hating in others what you hate in yourself?

Chamberlain, having now recovered from her pearl-clutching, apologises for pouring cold water on the conversation, and moves the discussion back to intergovernmental relations. She asks: “What is working well?”

Robertson is vexed by the question. Haven’t the MPs been listening to a word he’s said? “That is trying to paint something that is just not reflective of objective reality.” And on Gove’s assertions that things are getting better, he adds: “Just because a minister asserts it to be so does not make it so.”

One wonders whether he’ll apply that same logic to Scottish ministers. Just because a first minister claims a general election vote is a vote for Scottish independence, does not make it so. But that suggestion, unlike certain creative projects, may just be too vulgar for Robertson to ponder.

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