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by Louise Wilson
12 May 2021
Sketch: Party leaders face tough questions

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Party leaders face tough questions

It was, apparently, the most important Scottish Parliament election in history. The outcome would decide the focus of the next five years. You might think that is the same as every election, but you’d be… right.

Anyway, to help voters out, a series of debates between party leaders were held. The last was chaired by BBC Scotland’s Glenn Campbell, who at the start asked for a “respectful debate”. “That means not talking over one another. At the outset, can we all agree on that?”

Anas Sarwar was first off the mark: “Agreed”. No one else seemed as keen.

“Promise?” nudged Campbell. 

“Yep,” a hesitant Nicola Sturgeon replied.

“I’m going to hold you to that, thank you,” said Campbell, ignoring the silence from Douglas Ross, Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie.

Typical. It’s the two minorities in the room, the woman and the Muslim, having to agree to not get tetchy. The three middle-aged white men make no such promise…

The first question: should people be able to go abroad from mid-May, now coronavirus is declining in the UK?

“That’s a decision that’s going to be taken,” Ross astutely replies. He’s not wrong. He goes on to say he spoke to Grant Shapps just the other day about this. Not sure Ross understands name dropping is only successful when the name you’ve dropped is well known or an even better known alias, aka Mr Green.

Sturgeon chimed in with an equally valuable contribution: “This is exactly the kind of decision a first minister is going to be taking literally this time next week. It’s important in my view we have an experienced hand at the wheel taking these decisions.” Not that, you understand, she is getting cocky about who that person might be even though she is the only one with the experience of being first minister.

Question two was on tax. Campbell eschewed the normal format: “Hands up, please, if you have no fixed plans to put up income tax in the next parliament.” Rennie, Sarwar and Ross raised their hands, while Sturgeon looked a bit uncomfortable. “Keep your hands up if…”

Nope, Sturgeon couldn’t take it anymore. “Come on, hands up?! Can we not have a proper debate? I mean come on, these are complex issues, Glenn, it’s a bit more complicated than hands up and hand down. Let’s talk about it.”

Campbell accepted the challenge and asked about her tax plans. She mumbled something about “unforeseen circumstances” which might make it necessary to increase taxes. You could feel her hand almost itching to be raised.

Ross tried to explain why he wants to cut tax for higher earners and Sarwar saw an opportunity to be helpful. “What Douglas is trying to say, but he’s using more words than he needs to, is that he’d give himself a pay cut, sorry, a tax cut.”

Attempting to parry back, Ross replied: “You can’t even get your words right, Anas.” A bit like people online that can’t counter your argument so instead complain about the typo.

The candidates were next asked for their views on the planned £200m royal yacht, the HMS Prince Philip.

Someone put ten pence in Rennie. “I don’t support it… I don’t think it’s good spending, I don’t think it’s the best way we could spent £200m, I can think of probably 500 things I would rather spend that money on than a royal yacht.” Like flying a microlight or doing karate in the park or buying a giant Connect 4 set, for example. He continued: “To be honest, I don’t know why we’re debating this. The royal yacht is a ludicrous idea, it’ll never happen, it’s one of Boris Johnson’s tricks to try and attract attention.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so animated outside of photocalls.

Naturally, no debate in Scotland can go by without mention of independence. Ross accused Sturgeon of wanting to hold an “illegal, wildcat referendum” which she denied. Personally, I’d vote Yes to more wildcats in Scotland. But I can’t guarantee which way their vote would sway.

Trying to pin his rival down, Ross asked: “What is the route to a second independence referendum if the Prime Minister refuses a Section 30 order?”

Sturgeon replies: “I’m sorry Douglas, that is not the que…”

“Well that’s the question I’m asking,” Ross cut in, auditioning for a fourth career. Sensing his job at risk, Campbell intervened in the bickering and brought in self-appointed adult in the room, Sarwar.

“The problem you have with Douglas’s approach is he’s just a gift to the SNP. If he leads the opposition after this election, he’ll be a gift that keeps on giving,” the Scottish Labour leader said. Campbell sought clarity in Labour’s position on a referendum. “I want people to choose something different.” Right. All clear.

Attempting to end the debate on a consensual note, Campbell asked about post-pandemic plans. Sturgeon said: “Hugging my mum and my dad and my wee sister.” This sentiment was echoed by the others, apart from…

“If I got the chance to go to another beer festival, I would be in absolute heaven,” replied Harvie, quickly adding: “And if I know my mum and dad well enough, they would be coming along.”

Everyone else wants to spend time with loved ones. Patrick Harvie just wants a sesh. We could all vote for that.

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