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Sketch: Preaching to the SNP membership

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Preaching to the SNP membership

A religious fanatic warning about “dark and dangerous days” is not exactly what most would have expected from Scottish politics in the 21st century. Yet here we are, into the 23rd year of the 2000s, and a young woman is stepping forward, presumably urged by some guiding voice, to warn of terrible times.

That young woman, of course, is SNP leadership contender (“at the moment” – her words) Kate Forbes. Following her righteous path, the finance secretary was defending the fact that she would not have backed legalising equal marriage.

“Have we become so illiberal that we cannot have this discussion, or some people are beyond the pale?” she asks from her pulpit. Raising her hands to the heavens, she continues: “Because if some people are beyond the pale” – here she looks directly into your soul – “then those are dark and dangerous days for Scotland.”

First comes a refusal to allow gay people to get married. Second comes the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Chilling, indeed.

Forbes had earlier clarified she wouldn’t seek to overturn the law on equal marriage now, because she was a “servant of democracy, rather than a dictator”. Having to say you are not dictator is not where you’d ideally want to be on day two of a leadership campaign. Such is politics.

Humza Yousaf, another of the wannabe first ministers, must be slightly pleased by the setback for Forbes. After all, she did ruin his launch by timing her announcement with his speech.

She has also helpfully knocked some of his own comments from the headlines – including that he’s quite comfortable being the health secretary that saw record-breaking waiting times in emergency rooms across the NHS because, quite frankly, no one else would have stopped it either.

Speaking with the air of a toddler asking why he should wash his hands because they’ll just get dirty again anyway, Yousaf told journalists: “That doesn’t matter, actually, who would have been in charge of the health service at this particular time in the midst of the global pandemic.” Not sure the public will agree that it doesn’t matter.

And while the health secretary is happy not taking the blame for failures in the health service, in the same breath he will take credit for having the “best performing A&E across the UK”. The good bits are all down to him, you understand.

He’s simply rehearsing for the top job, where he will make that same argument for everything. Economy going well? Thank the Scottish Government. Economy going badly? Westminster’s fault. Poverty targets being hit? Hurray Holyrood. Poverty rises? Boo, UK Government. Climate change ambitions met? Yay for Scottish ministerial decisions. Net zero missed…….. you get the idea. No doubt that time he spectacularly fell off a scooter while whizzing up the Scottish Parliament corridors was all Westminster’s fault too.

Yousaf is no wallflower, either. He’ll happily take personal credit for when things go really well. Avoiding strike action in the NHS, for example. That was “not by accident, but because of my relationships that I’ve managed to build up with our trade unions”. Perhaps he should try passing that advice onto Shirley-Anne Somerville, who’s having a torrid time with teachers.

And then there’s Ash Regan, first out the starting gate, before Nicola Sturgeon’s political tenure was even cold. Perhaps Regan thought that, much like a game of Snap!, the quickest is the winner. First candidate equals first minister, right? Only, with Forbes’ campaign now in freefall, the underdog candidate is now poised to collect those endorsements from MSPs who have had, uh, a change of heart.

How will she boost her support? She’s apparently going for the unusual approach of bashing everything her party has done in government recently – you know, the government she was part of right up until Nicola Sturgeon stopped talking to her.

What does she make of the government’s energy strategy? “I will not support an accelerated net zero path which sees us turn off the North Sea taps,” she tweeted. How would she fix the delay to improving the A9? “The dualling of the A9 must be accelerated & A96 must commence without delay.” Groundbreaking. How would she respond to the UK Government’s block on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill? “I would not be progressing the GRR Bill.”

And after all that, Regan still insists she is the unity candidate. “We need to bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them. I believe I am the person to do that.” Aye, I’m sure former ministerial colleagues see it that way too.

In all the legacy discussion about Nicola Sturgeon, what no one seemed to mention was that it would reveal how nutty her party is. At the end of the five weeks, who will it be: the Madonna, the man who believes he can walk on water, or… Ash Regan?

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