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Sketch: MSPs go to the funfair

Image credit: Iain Green

Sketch: MSPs go to the funfair

In Richard Lyle’s defence, this was actually the first time he had successfully instigated a debate on funfairs in the Scottish Parliament this year. But then he never gets to talk about them as much as he would like.

The circus bill, which received royal assent in January, had given him a huge opportunity to discuss the nuances of the area, and he seized it, with his crowning moment arriving when he asked a senior lecturer in biodiversity, animal health and comparative medicine how she would prove he was secretly running a circus if he lied about it.

“This is the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill, but what if I had a wild west show?” he asked. “I might say, ‘I have a wild west show, not a circus’,” he added, enigmatically.

She didn’t know how she would prove that, which really tells you how forensic Scottish Parliament questioning can be.

“What if I were a trainer who had brought up and trained cubs and I said, ‘These are not wild animals’?” he asked. “What would your view be?”

She didn’t have an answer to that either, except to explain that there’s actually quite a tight definition of the concept of a wild animal, regardless of how well Richard Lyle might feel he knows the cub in question.

The point is that he talks about showmen a surprising amount. He brought it up at every stage of the circus bill’s journey through parliament, and he was talking about it again now, as the rural economy committee discussed the transport bill.

On this occasion, the committee had been debating which high emitting vehicles might be granted exemptions from having to pay fines for entering low emission zones, with various MSPs arguing the emergency services should be allowed inside for free, and others questioning if it should go further.

Some thought ambulances should get free access. Others argued for community bus operators to be cut some slack. Jamie Greene questioned if diplomats should get into a LEZ without charge. Others suggested wedding cars, as well as old military vehicles in parades. Murdo Fraser argued that, as a classic car owner, he shouldn’t have to pay.

Lyle, though, argued the exemption should go to travelling funfairs. He was very insistent.

“I support the introduction of low emission zones in cities, towns and villages, where required,” he explained, reasonably “but I have lodged amendment two on behalf of the Scottish section of the Showmen’s Guild because its members might have to drive through low emission zones to erect funfairs at certain times of the year.”

The committee looked somewhat taken aback by this, leading the Uddingston and Bellshill MSP – and convener of the cross-party group on the Scottish Showmen’s Guild – to read out the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a funfair, under the apparent belief that would help.

No one had asked, but it didn’t stop him. Experience seemed to have taught Lyle that waiting to be asked about funfairs is a mistake.

He said: “Due to the type of equipment that showmen have to erect, their vehicles can be large, and most run on diesel. Showmen have types of vehicles that are not on the road every day of the week, so they might keep a vehicle longer than other companies will, which means that a vehicle that they use might not comply with low-emission standards.”

The man is really very keen on funfairs. He’s very much the P T Barnum of the Scottish Parliament. But is a travelling funfair really the top priority here? Keeping in mind the emergency services hadn’t been given an exemption?

Some would no doubt be critical of the idea that funfair staff would be allowed into a low emission zone, but an ambulance would not, but there are lots of ways the system can be made to work. Paramedics could travel in clown cars, for example. Or firefighters could pretend they were on their way to a funfair, while secretly putting out fires.

Of course, the simplest solution would be to merge the emergency services with Scotland’s funfair industry. Sort of like what they did with the Police Scotland merger, but with candy floss.

It’s more or less the natural conclusion to the Christie Report, when you think about it. The cost savings would be just the start, even if it might take time for the public to adapt to dodgem operators being tasked with routine police call-outs.

The whole thing is a can of worms. Lyle has already expressed scepticism over plans for a Workplace Parking Levy, but what would it mean for rollercoasters? How long would they need to pause before it constituted parking? And would Lyle demand an exemption?

The area was obviously controversial, leading Transport Secretary Michael Matheson to plead with the MSPs to drop their various amendments and give vehicles such as emergency services exemptions through regulation, further down the line, rather than at this stage.

And it worked, with the MSPs dropping their amendments covering ambulances, fire engines, police cars, diplomats’ cars, wedding cars, classic cars and vintage military vehicles.

Except Richard Lyle, that is. He insisted on pushing his amendment on funfairs. It was passed.

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