Sketch: Ramble On!
Some days, MSPs spend their time talking about the important issues, responding to the needs of constituents and battling the big challenges. Other days, they spend an hour talking about how great walking is.
Sport minister Maree Todd could not stop smiling as she waxed lyrical about how much she loves a ramble. She even gave herself a miniature cheer in the chamber when she revealed Scotland was “bucking the trend” in Europe when it came to increasing “recreational walking”. That includes “forest bathing”, whatever that means.
The enthusiasm was infectious. Edward Mountain suggested that “going for a walk is probably one of the greatest things you can do” as he called for more funding to maintain outdoor routes, a point which earnt precisely six claps from Tess White, the only other Tory in the chamber. The rest of them were probably driving back to their constituencies by then.
Paul O’Kane spoke earnestly about how walking was the “most cost-effective form of exercise”. Brian Whittle agreed, adding it was the “ultimate low-entry option” for physical activity. Indeed, the former runner knows you don’t even need a full set of shoes to take part. One-shoe Whittle did, after all, once win a medal for his half-barefoot heroics.
He then recalled how he liked to cycle to school. “I am not one for saying, ‘in my day’,” said the MSP as he lived in the past, “but that is an example of looking back to look forward. How do we get our children walking and cycling to school?” Not to point out the obvious here but telling schoolkids to look back while cycling feels like a recipe for disaster.
He wasn’t the only speaker who took a trip down memory lane. Gillian Martin got all maudlin for that happy time, two years ago, when she “cherished” the 30 minutes a day she could spend outside during lockdown. It was “precious time”, she added, which raises questions about whether something is stopping her from going outside now.
Graeme Dey, meanwhile, has become “obsessed” with his step counter. He’s almost marching on the spot has he aims to put that number over the edge. But what the MSP really loves is golf.
“I can’t claim to be an avid walker… I tend to view lengthy walks as a dull substitute for hitting a wee white ball around a golf course,” he admits, which maybe explains why he is no longer transport minister. Having a man who openly says he “wouldn’t dedicate a third of the time” to walking make commitments on increasing walking is a bit at odds.
But he asked not to be judged. MSPs must “recognise and respect the fact that different people will get walking in different ways,” he argued, going on the defensive about his golf hobby.
Thankfully, Whittle was able to offer him a lifeline, suggesting the two have a game. “There are two types of person: the people who enjoy a game of golf and the people who are wrong,” Whittle insisted, alienating most of the population. A bold move the day before an election.
But Dey is not the only one for whom walking is accidental. Gillian Mackay – sporting a Star Wars badge on May the Fourth, indicating she prefers an Imperial March to a wee wander – talked about how walking is a small part of her hobby of meeting dogs.
Karen Adam prefers to think a bit more spiritually. In lockdown, she said, “a path that we just used to take to get from A to B became much more than a route; it became a space for contemplation.”
She continued: “For once, we did not just put one foot in front of the other; we looked up and around. We breathed in the air and noticed seasonal changes.” She was practically flouncing around the chamber in a dress made of hemp, putting her hands to the ground and feeling the vibes of the earth.
Speaking of hippies, Patrick Harvie was called upon to wrap up the hour-long love-in. The minister for walking suspects walking hasn’t been debated in parliament before because it is “so casual, so natural, that maybe it doesn’t even need to be discussed”. He then spent the next five minutes discussing it. That’s the impact of Greens in government.