Sketch: Nudity, video meetings and the virtual parliament
So, which of them do you think were fully dressed? As in, the whole way. Clothed on their bottom halves, as well as their top?
Watching on TV, there’s no way you could really tell. Nicola Sturgeon, surely, would have been. Unlike the other party leaders, she probably has other meetings to go to. Also, given the FM appeared to be taking part in the first two ‘virtual leaders’ questions’ from the same spot she does the COVID-19 briefings, you have to assume she travelled to get there. Unless the FM actually lives there now, or set up a shadowy stage and two podiums in her own house.
As virtual PO Ken Macintosh explained, while towering over the camera: “This is an unusual format for us, but these are unusual and uncertain times.” And he was right. You couldn’t be certain a single one of them was fully dressed.
As leader of the Lib Dems – surely the most nude of all the parties – Willie Rennie was always going to represent something of a question mark, and his choice of shot, set against a blank white wall, offered little reassurance. Where was he, anyway?
The Scottish Party Leaders House is actually the next logical step in Scottish politics
At least Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw had the Scottish Parliament crest on show behind him, so you could tell he was in the building. Rennie, in contrast, could have been anywhere – his basement, an airing cupboard, inside your own house. It was a strong message from the North East Fife MSP: he is Lib Dem leader and he can get you anywhere.
That left just two of them. Patrick Harvie used the opportunity to show off his vase – presumably it would have been too complicated to try and bring it into the chamber normally, even if he made Ross Greer hold it up behind him as he spoke, like an assistant on a game show – before being replaced by Alison Johnstone the next week, possibly in response to his showboating. Meanwhile Richard Leonard went for a more unorthodox ‘peering down at the camera’ approach, in what appeared to be an attempt to create the impression he had been caught on camera mid-burglary, before moving to display a bookcase.
Now of course none of this was perfect, and to an extent, with the coronavirus lockdown grounding workers and bringing towns and cities across the world to a standstill, these virtual question sessions may be the best we can do for the time being. As the FM put it, since the start of the pandemic “our lives have been transformed in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago. This virtual session of First Minister’s question time might, in the scheme of things, be a relatively minor example of that, but it is a striking example for our parliament.”
But while this was just a trial, those involved seemed to believe it successful enough to continue with. Clearly though, after two sessions, there are still improvements that could be made to the format.
For a start, with just the leaders there and no backbenchers, there was a total absence of heckling. They listened to each other. It was terrible.
So, to address this, there should be an additional screen added, beyond the five for the leaders and one for Macintosh. This would be known as the ‘wild card screen’, and at any point a randomly selected MSP could appear, screaming wildly over everyone, or making that weird cow groaning noise they do when they’re unhappy.
It would certainly add drama. Particularly if the others weren’t warned, and Rennie just had to try and do his best to keep going as John Swinney slid past the screen on a wheelie chair, laughing sarcastically, or Neil Findlay reared up from below, like a giant squid emerging from the ocean deep to drown mediaeval sailors, bellowing about the Lib Dems’ part in the coalition government ten years ago. That’s scrutiny.
But again, it’s not perfect, and it still doesn’t get around the fact they would be talking via video link. Well, the good news is that there’s actually one viable solution remaining.
They could all move in together in a big house.
Now listen, before you write it off. At its heart, the idea is a simple one, with Ken Macintosh charged with keeping things running smoothly – organising house meetings, drawing up cleaning rotas, making sure Jackson Carlaw tidies up his puppets when he isn’t playing with them. It would be like the Brady Bunch, but set somewhere in central Scotland during a global pandemic, and with a greater focus on Richard Leonard.
When you think about it, the Scottish Party Leaders House is actually the next logical step in Scottish politics. You could film it 24 hours a day and sell the TV rights, with Brian Taylor thrust into the role of Davina McCall, and if it got boring we could just vote them out and replace them.
Who knows what effect being quarantined together would have on them. Maybe they could become friends. As the FM herself said, our lives have changed in ways we would previously have considered unimaginable.