Sketch: Selective amnesia hits Westminster
I’m worried about Pete Wishart. He appears to be suffering from acute memory loss.
Chairing the first session of the Scottish Affairs Committee since the Holyrood election, Wishart’s attempts to get a reaction from Scottish Secretary Alister Jack were thwarted by his inability to remember what had happened just the week before.
“Who actually won the election a week ago today?” he asked. It seemed the plague of selective amnesia that had ravaged the Scottish Government during the Salmond inquiry had finally made its way to Westminster.
Worse still, it seemed to be spreading – and was transmissible through video conferencing technology – as Jack was unable to give a clear answer.
“I’m very happy to congratulate Nicola Sturgeon on her re-election as first minister, that is beyond doubt,” Jack told the committee. Except, there is doubt because the Scottish electorate doesn’t elect the first minister. MSPs would do that a few days after this committee.
Jack continued: “But also, a member of your committee, Douglas Ross, I congratulate him on retaining the same tally of seats that Ruth Davidson achieved in 2016.” That is accurate, at least, but not really relevant to the question. Is he struggling to remember the overall result?
But he overcame the brief bout of forgetfulness when asked about a second independence referendum. “The changes are very, very minor indeed. One extra seat for the SNP, a couple less for Labour and the same number of seats for the Conservatives. I think we’re in the same place as we were then,” he said.
Then, tragically, amnesia struck again: “It’s just one party that thinks there should be a referendum.” Was something preventing him from remembering the Scottish Greens?
Thankfully, Wishart was on hand: “That just simply isn’t true. The Green Party, which is the fourth party in parliament, increased their numbers in parliament on the basis of having a referendum as part of their manifesto.”
Ah, but you see, Jack hadn’t forgotten the Greens – he was simply ignoring them because that meant he didn’t have to respond to the pro-indy majority. Or as he euphemistically put it, the Greens were guilty of “gaming the system” by not standing in all constituencies and therefore not sufficiently splitting the SNP vote.
He then suggested it wasn’t clear the SNP had won because of their stance on independence. “Some people might have been voting for the SNP because they wanted free dental care, free laptops or even a free bike for their children. Who knows why they chose to vote SNP?” Perhaps the electorate was as forgetful as him – or just fooled by the Nats sneakily hiding their views behind freebies.
Maybe the Tories had also successfully disguised their pro-union agenda. “Who knows why people choose to vote for the Scottish Conservative party?” Wishart pondered.
Jack had the answer: “Because we’ve got a wonderful leader.”
“We’ll leave it at that,” said Wishart, bringing the bizarre exchange to a close a mere 20 minutes into the session.
Then to the wonderful leader himself, Douglas Ross: “I have to say at the outset how disappointed people must have been to watch the quite frankly inept and poor chairing of this committee so far by Mr Wishart.”
Wishart wasn’t having that. “There’s no need at all to make attacks on the chair of this committee. I’ve been elected by the House to chair this committee. Could you please just get on with addressing your questions?”
“I’ve hit a nerve for the sensitive chair of this committee,” Ross replied gleefully.
“It’s not, I’m just trying to get on with doing my job without any sort of personal attacks like that,” Wishart replied, attempting to keep calm.
Ross kept prodding: “When you’re so poor at your job, I will personally attack you because you have talked over witnesses repeatedly today and I…” The situation quickly deteriorated into the least exciting ping-pong match ever.
Wishart: “This is absolutely pathetic. Will you please just get on with your questions without making any sort of erroneous attacks on the chair?”
Ross: “It’s not erroneous if you are poor and inept, and the fact that you won’t even allow me to put that on the record…”
Wishart: “Will you get on with your poor and inept questions, please, so we can get on with this session.”
Ross: “So our impartial chair has already decided that my questions will not be as good as his and I think people will see yet again the SNP don’t like to be criticised.”
Wishart: “We just want to get on with this session. Will you please now just ask your questions?”
“Hopefully you can calm down now, chair, as I address my questions to the Secretary of State and the minister,” Ross said, before moving on from the independence argument to ask about… an independent Scotland’s theoretical vaccination programme.
Game, set, match. Childish bickering wins a decisive victory. So much for grown-up politics.