Sketch: Communities rally in response to Alex Cole-Hamilton
“Since the start of this emergency, I have attended 77 coffee mornings.”
It was a Tuesday afternoon in the Scottish Parliament and Alex Cole-Hamilton was boasting again.
This was just the start of Cole-Hamilton’s contribution, but the chamber was already deeply impressed. In fact, they sat in silent awe. Too impressed to speak. Some were actually too impressed to applaud, if you can believe that.
This was a debate on COVID-19 and the response from communities, and so clearly MSPs were keen to highlight some of the good work going on in their local areas. Shirley-Anne Somerville, for example, paid tribute to the work being done by her local mosque. Pauline McNeill paid tribute to the work being done by Glasgow community groups in distributing food parcels.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, meanwhile, paid tribute to the important work being done by Alex Cole-Hamilton.
“I will speak from two vantage points,” he announced, though no one had asked. “As chair of the cross-party group on volunteering; and as a volunteer myself.”
Coffee mornings to community volunteering. It was one of the most Lib Dem speeches you could ever hear. “The Corstophine Community Centre delivers food parcels across west Edinburgh”, he said. “The Scran Academy, which many members know about, delivered its 50,000th meal for those in isolation across the city of Edinburgh.
“It has been the privilege of my life to volunteer among them for at least two evenings a week throughout lockdown,” he said. “A fortnight ago, I reached my own milestone, in delivering my thousandth meal to people who were isolating with COVID-19 symptoms. The experience of driving with meals all over Edinburgh has given me a real insight into how our communities are faring, and what we will need to do to support them.”
And of course at this stage it would be easy to mock, but it’s important to remember he was making an key point about community organisation.
After all, it is clear the community has been very kind to Alex Cole-Hamilton. In fact it’s incredible to think there are a thousand people in the west of Edinburgh who are willing to let him deliver their food. It showed a serious commitment to keeping him occupied.
“There is such resilience out there,” he said, looking round at the members as they continued to try to listen to his speech.
But then no one wants to spoil Alex Cole-Hamilton’s fun. It’s nice he has been out and about, and beyond that it says a huge amount about the patience and kindness of the local community that they are putting so much time and energy into looking after their local MSP.
Unfortunately though, there were parts of the debate that didn’t concern him.
Scottish Tory MSP Sir Edward Mountain, for example, didn’t reference the work being done by Alex Cole-Hamilton once, instead deciding to pay tribute to a woman in the highlands who has now raised £340,000 by climbing to the height of Suilven by going up and down her staircase 282 times. She has just 40 flights of stairs to go before she reaches the summit. But how much coffee can she drink?
No one knew. “This pandemic has proved that superfast broadband is far from important,” Mountain said, before pausing dramatically. “It is critical.”
It is far from important, it is critical. Doesn’t critical mean important, in this context, Edward? Sadly there was no time to find out, because just as Mountain was running through his concerns over the delivery of rural broadband – it is not important, it is critical – Richard Lyle wanted an intervention.
So what did he have up his sleeve? What tough question? What piece of rhetorical flair did he have ready?
“It is the United Kingdom Government’s fault. It is not the Scottish Government’s fault,” he argued.
It was actually quite satisfying, in a way. The entire dynamic between the SNP and the Tories summed up in a single sentence. But Mountain, apparently aware that the Scottish public have had to watch this level of debate for years, was ready. “It was the Scottish Government, not the UK Government, that made the promise,” he shot back.
But that was just a blip, really. Overall the debate was pretty uplifting – it was hard not to be, given the stream of examples of communities reaching out and organising themselves in an effort to look after Alex Cole-Hamilton.
And that is really the one shining light in all this – the way a whole community has rallied together to give the Edinburgh Western MSP something to do with his time.
So what about these coffee mornings, anyway? Well, they have to put one on for him every day, apparently. His whole street does it. Having Alex Cole-Hamilton in your community really does mean a lot of work.
“Every morning at 11 o’clock, rain or shine, everyone stops what they are doing and meets for a coffee break for 20 minutes around the edge of our grove,” he explained, obviously delighted.
The good people of West Edinburgh really have gone above and beyond.