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by Louise Wilson
12 February 2023
Sketch: Budget 2: Electric Boogaloo is a flop

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Budget 2: Electric Boogaloo is a flop

Once upon a time, the process of passing the Scottish budget was something akin to a great romcom.

It had plenty of “will they, won’t they” moments as ministers flirted with opposition MSPs.

There were moments of awkwardness and misunderstandings as members interrogated the numbers, only for Patrick Harvie to realise his true destiny as government supporter.

There was even, once, a classic enemies-to-lovers storyline back when the Scottish Conservatives used to prop up SNP budgets. Maybe that day will come again…

Now, though, the budget has become a stale, straight-to-video remake.

MSPs duly filed into the chamber at 3pm one Thursday, trying to fool those watching that Budget Bill 2: Electric Boogaloo was worth it

Sure, all the theatre of the statement and the debate is still there, the main characters still play their parts, but really it feels like the actors’ hearts aren’t in it. Because they know, deep down, this romcom isn’t going to be a box office success.

There will be no surprising twists, no big reveals, no last-minute dash through Edinburgh Airport so Ross Greer can declare his undying love for John Swinney’s spreadsheets. No, it’s all a foregone conclusion.

Still, the show must go on. And so MSPs duly filed into the chamber at 3pm one Thursday, trying to fool those watching that Budget Bill 2: Electric Boogaloo was worth it.

Swinney rose to his feet, promising a “fair and ambitious” package. Unfortunately, his speech had none of the shine, none of the zeal, no Lothario charisma one might come to expect of a male lead. It was very formulaic, with the deputy first minister taking precisely one intervention from each opposition party before returning to his script.

Kenny Gibson was up next and seemed to forget he was playing a bit-part in a romcom. Instead, the member thought he was the lead in a Scottish political version of Jekyll and Hyde – The Strange Case of Dr Committee Convener and Mr SNP Backbencher. His speech was supposed to be summarising the conclusions of the finance committee he chairs, but the mask slipped and he kept indulging in openly party-political rhetoric.

“The chaos of the short-lived Truss government and the economic policies that Tory MSPs such as Murdo Fraser and Stephen Kerr urged us to emulate lead directly to the imposition of £55bn in tax increases and spending cuts amidst rocketing inflation,” Gibson howled.

Willie Rennie, resplendent in a navy plaid suit and practically clutching a rose between his teeth, was keen to offer an alternative

Fraser jerked awake at the mention of his name, looking around highly confused. Was he befuddled by what was said or because he’d fallen asleep during the tedium of the show’s opening sequence?

Kerr sought clarification from director and deputy presiding officer Annabelle Ewing. Is Gibson really playing the character of unbiased committee convener? Ewing simply said the show must go on.

Fraser jumped in to wonder, “if all members of his committee would sign up to the comments that he has just made”?

Gibson flashed a mischievous, roguish grin. “I have to say I think probably most of them actually probably would, to be honest.” That line got the first laugh of the night, 14 minutes in. Not great for a romcom.

As the minutes passed by, Gibson continued to lean more into his Hyde persona and Kerr was getting visibly upset. When he could take no more, he yelled “point of order” – his own One True Love is parliamentary procedure, after all – and complained to the director again that this “cannot possibly be the speech of a convener of a committee.” It is “completely out of order,” he furiously argued.

Ewing was having none of it. “Mr Kerr, I can hear you from this distance,” she said sharply, adding any issues with the speech should be directed to the committee and not her. No subtitles needed. She snapped her invisible clapperboard, indicating Gibson should continue with the scene.

“This is a mild speech in comparison with my stage one speech last year,” he said before turning back to the camera. Yes, you heard right, his excuse was that he was worse, more biased, last year.

After that drama, the rest of the cast seemed to get back on track. Liz Smith, in her role as jealous ex, had a proposal. “John, will you… maybe look at my budget ideas instead?” Forgot about Ross Greer, pick me instead! It was a tease. The DFM was unmoved.

Willie Rennie, resplendent in a navy plaid suit and practically clutching a rose between his teeth, was keen to offer an alternative too. “We are ready to support it if it is right – not perfect, perhaps, but good enough,” he said. Settle for me, his eyes screamed. His feelings were not reciprocated, poor guy. Unrequited love must be hard.

But at least it was a happy ending for Swinney and Greer, who ran off into the sunset as soon as the votes were cast.

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