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by Louise Wilson
04 July 2021
Sketch: When Nicola Sturgeon tried to ban Andy Burnham from Scotland

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: When Nicola Sturgeon tried to ban Andy Burnham from Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon tried to ban Andy Burnham from visiting Scotland.

But to make it not look like a personal vendetta against the man who threatens her status as the UK’s most popular politician, she banned the whole of Manchester from crossing the border.

“I regret… that we are introducing restrictions on travel between Scotland and two cities in England,” the First Minister announced in a press statement, the word ‘regret’ doing a lot of heavy lifting.

“Manchester and Salford currently have high levels of COVID, and so from Monday onwards, non-essential travel is between Scotland and those cities is not permitted,” she confirmed. Being the skilled politician that she is, she successfully managed to hide her smirk – though probably had to practice a few times in the mirror beforehand. The only tell-tale sign was the numbers, which don’t lie, since places like Dundee had higher COVID rates yet Dundonians weren’t banned from the rest of Scotland.

The Manchester mayor was not happy at all with this revelation. He accused her of being the worst thing either of them could possibly imagine: a Tory.

“They’ve done to us exactly what they always complain that the UK Government does to Scotland,” he said, adding: “The Scottish Government can’t just impose things on parts of the north of England with no discussion with us. That is simply wrong.” Indeed, there’s not even a Sewell convention in place to enable the Scottish Government to overrule Manchester.

Burnham went on to accuse Sturgeon of not talking to him about the arrangements first, to which the First Minister replied that she would be happy to chat. The next day, she said: “If he wants a grown-up conversation, he only has to pick up the phone.” Burnham is both a child and a clairvoyant apparently.

Sturgeon continued: “But if, as I suspect might be the case, this is more about generating a spat with me as part of some positioning in a Labour leadership contest of the future, then I am not interested.” She is not playing with Andy anymore, she pouts, he’s being mean to her.

Anas Sarwar wasn’t having any of it. “What a pathetic and childish response from Nicola Sturgeon. This isn’t grown-up leadership. It’s petty politics at its worst,” he said. He takes his self-appointed role of grown-up in the room very seriously, as we saw in the election campaign, so he knows better than anyone what a grown-up is.

Later that day, Burnham responded: “Nicola Sturgeon saying I should pick up the phone – well, I’m more than happy to, but shouldn’t they have picked up the phone before they did this?” Psst… Burnham said that Sturgeon said that Burnham should have spoken to her about her not speaking to him. Pass it on.

And on the suggestion this was about the Labour leadership, he said: “I find that insulting.” Wait, he doesn’t want her to know she’d gotten under his skin. “Not for me,” he hastily added, “but for people here who are directly affected by what she’s announced.” Smoothly done.

As for Burnham… he’s fine. He didn’t want to come to Scotland anyway. 

It seemed Sarwar’s intervention had had no impact. Time to send in the big guns. The UK Government, known for its brilliant negotiation skills, quickly set up de-escalation talks before this playground spat turned into something bigger.

But that did no good either. Immediately after those talks broke up, a ‘source’ close to the First Minister (not, of course, acting on the FM’s instructions) said Burnham had been “incoherent and absurd” throughout the meeting.

Let the game of Chinese whispers begin. A spokesman for Burnham said Sturgeon had accepted she should have told the mayor first. He also hit out at the Scottish Government talking to the press about a confidential meeting, while talking to the press about the confidential meeting.

The Scottish Conservatives could meanwhile not sit idly by while all this happened; they wanted in on the fun too. They tattled on the FM for not making the announcement in a statement to the parliament. The Scottish Parliament’s elected grown-up, the presiding officer, agreed this was not ok and chastised the government for bad behaviour. She’s not angry, just disappointed.

The deputy filibuster minister provided Schrödinger’s answer to the warning, at once accepting the PO’s words and also insisting the government had done nothing wrong. John Swinney said: “The government will take away what the presiding officer has said, because we respect parliament. We notified parliament on Thursday afternoon.”

Then, because he’s never one to let a good taunt by, he added: “If members of the Conservative Party could not be bothered to look at their emails at 2.39 on Thursday afternoon then, as the saying goes, you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.”

As for Burnham… he’s fine. He didn’t want to come to Scotland anyway. Remember when he taunted that independence would mean driving on the wrong side of the road?

Read the most recent article written by Louise Wilson - Graeme Dey: We should be very clear rail is devolved - it is for us to decide

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