Sketch: Stephen Kerr winds up the SNP
Nobody, but nobody, can wind the SNP backbench up like Stephen Kerr. When it comes to Nat-baiting, this Tory MSP is the absolute maestro. And they fall for it every time.
Kerr’s afternoon fun (you have to take pride in your job) is in debate titled ‘Protection of Scottish Parliament Powers’. He starts out pretending to be disappointed that another afternoon at Holyrood is spent talking about the constitution. “We could have been talking about the health service, education or policing – areas in which this parliament plays a vital role,” he wails dramatically.
It’s difficult to believe he truly does lament these debates as a waste of time, when he mischievously adds: “One of the things that we could have spent this afternoon talking about is how this parliament works.”
Uproar from the SNP. Several of them start yelling, waving their arms, asking for interventions. And Kerr – generous as he is – duly accepts one from Christine Grahame. But Grahame’s intervention is simply to tell Kerr to take an intervention.
“I am delighted to have been able to fulfil Christine Grahame’s wishes in an instant,” Kerr says. He goes on to accuse the SNP of simply trying to “make as much noise as possible” whenever they hear something they disagree with, which is rich coming from the Tory’s heckler-in-chief.
Absolute outrage envelopes the SNP... He manages to resist the temptation to take a bow
But then, Kerr knows this will only annoy the SNP further – and indeed he is granted his reward when those benches are riled up once more. “They operate from the Nicola Sturgeon playbook – now the Humza Yousaf playbook, which is the same book with a different face on the cover – by creating as much distraction as they can through the manufacture of grievance.” Truly a gold medalist in Nat-annoying.
But his job is not yet done. With a Cheshire Cat grin, he trots out his favourite line about the SNP never wanting devolution to begin with. “The SNP seeks to destroy this parliament,” he adds flamboyantly.
It’s sending the SNP into a frenzy. Alasdair Allan rises to point out it was the Tories who campaigned No/No in ‘97. And indeed, Kerr admits he himself voted against the creation of the Scottish Parliament back then too. Still, he insists: “It is the Conservatives who have made the Scottish Parliament the most powerful devolved parliament in the world.”
Only Neil Bibby seems to get that his job that day is to speak without being listened to
Absolute outrage envelopes the SNP. Kerr, delighted with himself, takes a seat. He manages to resist the temptation to take a bow.
SNP depute leader Keith Brown is up next. He accuses Kerr of trying to run away from this parliament at the earliest opportunity – a reference to Kerr’s candidacy for a Westminster seat – and to be fair to the Tory MSP he dips his head in acknowledgement. I suppose after more than two years winding up Nats at Holyrood, he’s had his fill – time to return to the Commons, where there will be a new crop of Nats to annoy after the next general election.
Brown, of course, is to blame for this entire debate taking place in the first place. Independence minister Jamie Hepburn said as much in his opening statement, that this debate was a result of promise he’d made to the dear depute a few months back. The Scottish Government does stick to some of its commitments, you see.
And what follows is a whole lot of hyperbole. Hepburn argues UK Government’s actions are “tantamount to blackmail”. Michelle Thomson accuses the Conservatives of an “all-out assault” on the parliament (must have missed those headlines; did Ruth Davidson bring her tank?). Alasdair Allan seems to think he lives in a “rebel province”.
Ross Greer, vexed by how upset his SNP pals are getting, tries to get his own back. He accuses Scottish Secretary Alister Jack of “hiding”, of “running scared”, of “trying to dodge scrutiny”. Greer is hugely disappointed he won’t get 20p back on the can of juice he has with his packed lunch.
Kerr, able to dish it out but struggling to take it, gets to his feet. The Green MSP has got it wrong, he claims, in what can only be described as an attempt at sounding breezy. Observers should make up their own minds about whether that attempt was successful (it was not).
Greer suggests he must occupy Jack’s mind rent-free. “Jack spoke about me at length to the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster; he wrote to Simon Case about me, he wrote to the Presiding Officer, about me; and now… he has sent his previous letter about me to my colleague Edward Mountain.” Why is he so obsessed with me, the Green MSP wonders.
Only Neil Bibby seems to get that his job that day is to speak without being listened to. Bar poor sketch writers, fewer will care about, watch, or even know such a magnificent debate is taking place. Which may explain why he delivers the speech without any gusto… not that he’s a gusto man to begin with.
Still, to keep him and his colleagues entertained he plays a spot of Labour bingo. All the favourite catchphrases are there: “grown-up politics”; “grievance nationalism”; “muscular unionism”; “make change possible”; “bring Tory rule to an end”. That’s a full house.
Stephen Kerr simply accuses Bibby of “word salad”. It’s difficult to disagree.