Sketch: Liz Truss in Pork Markets: Live!
Rishi Sunak bounds onto the stage as though he’s about to deliver an hour-long Netflix comedy special. Only, the joke is on the British public.
He’s there, according to STV’s Colin Mackay, for one of the “scariest job interviews” – facing 650 members of the Scottish Conservatives to convince them to back him. It is not going terribly well.
Andrew Bowie, one of the first Scottish Tories to put their head above the parapet and back one of the candidates – a sure sign of looming failure – had just introduced the former chancellor as “our next Prime Minister”.
Bowie is a natural fortune-teller. Remember the time he insisted Christian Wakeford MP was a “solid Conservative” and he would be “very surprised” if Wakeford defected to Labour, live on TV, only for that to happen at that exact moment? Startling skills of clairvoyancy.
Sunak starts in on schools, insisting the “birthright of every child is a world-class education and that is something the SNP would do well to remember”. The audience politely applaud. A dig at the SNP is always welcome in this room, but policy pledges on schools don’t exactly set the heather alight.
Acknowledging this, Sunak switches to the NHS. Surely this selectorate will care about that? Fixing the NHS is “not just about the money we are putting into it but the healthcare we are getting out of it,” he says, then pauses. For a brief moment you could hear a pin drop, before the audience realises the great performer is waiting for more applause. They politely oblige.
That went down even worse than the education stuff, Sunak thinks. Time to move to safer ground: attacking the SNP.
Politicians in Scotland must be “relentlessly focused” on responding to the cost-of-living crisis, “not another divisive referendum”. That seemed to wake up some of the sleepier attendees. He continues: “They can’t even get the ferries to work!” A bit of laughter. He’s found his stride.
“I do not just want to ignore Nicola Sturgeon; I want to take her on and beat her,” he finishes, not exactly to rapturous applause, but at least they weren’t snoring.
The truth is, Sunak is just the warm-up act. What the audience are really here to see is Pork Markets: Live! A couple of fanatics are even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “In Liz We Truss”, elevating Mrs I-Grew-Up-In-Paisley-I-Know-What-Hardship-Looks-Like to god-like status.
Former Scottish secretary David Mundell gives her introduction. Truss and Sunak are not the only ones here for a job interview – he’d very much like his old one back. He tells the room the reason the nationalists talk about independence so much is to get away from their record of delivery in government (rather than, presumably, because they want independence). Another interesting tactic, given the entire leadership contest thus far has been the two candidates attempting to distance themselves as far as possible from the UK Government’s record after 12 years in power.
But that of course doesn’t matter to this particular audience. As Truss sweeps onto the stage, they whoop and cheer and applaud. Loudly.
And she knows exactly what they want. “I consider myself a child of the Union and to me we’re not just neighbours, we’re family. I will never ever let our family be split up.” Rapturous applause. Delicious, juicy red meat.
The people of Scotland, Truss insists, have been “let down by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP government”. “I know the people of Scotland deserve better, and they want better,” she adds to the stomping of feet.
Swiftly moving to Brexit, she insists she will remove all EU law from the statute books. She will extend the Rwanda scheme to ensure she is able to send more vulnerable asylum seekers away. She will legislate to make sure that blasted European Court of Human Rights cannot uphold the human rights of those asylum seekers. And, wanting to ensure she covers all those traditional Conservative bases, she adds: “I also believe and am free to say that a woman is a woman.” Who knows what she means, but it seemed to go down well.
The members are in ecstasy. And they do not take kindly to Colin Mackay’s attempts to sober them up. What about rising bills, what about reduced wages, what about the poorest in society? They didn’t want to hear it.
But they have endless support for the candidates as both of them denounce the protesters outside, claiming they were proof of the division caused by the SNP. Didn’t people in Scotland have a right to change their mind on independence given Brexit and Covid has happened since 2014, Mackay asks. “BOOOO, HISSSS,” reply the audience.
Braying inside Perth Concert Hall and braying outside it too. All in all, a win for the donkeys – who do, after all, lead us.