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Last word

Rab McNeil

Brothers in arms IT’S all about unity, you nit! Yup, in a

surprise development, the opening First Minister’s Questions of the new session was all about unity. But it was like the unity of Mafia bosses, all sideways glances and veiled remarks. Te cause of the unity was the protection of shipbuilding projects threatened by the Lib- Con cuts from Westminster. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Under threat again (they should make that a dictionary definition: “Job: something that is always under threat.”) When Labour leader Iain Gray presented

the cause of unity to First Minister Ecksworth Salmond, he still managed to look malign about it. And the usual Rottweilers behind him strained on their leashes. Even the call for unity was cloaked in see-through one-upmanship. Had the First Eck experienced “the privilege” of visiting the Queen Elizabeth (not the monarch but one of the ships under threat)? Er, no, said the Eck. Which was exactly what Mr Gray wanted him to say. Because Iain had been there. Indeed, he had “stood on the deck”, he vouchsafed. Te implication, perhaps, was that – as the famous poem has it – “all but he had fled”. Mr Gray went further: “I am asking the

First Minister to work with me.” Er, I think that works the other way now, mate. At the third time of being asked about

the unity he’d already called for in the first place, the First Eck started to sound a little exasperated. “Having established that consensus and agreement to the first question, I don’t think we should struggle to try and ruin it by the time we get to the answer to the last question.” Tis occasioned the first strangled cry from

one of Labour’s famous harpies – hitherto mercifully silent – and a shaking of Duncan McNeil’s (Lab) never happy head. Te Eck was forced to spell it out: “So let me repeat it – I agree with him [Iain Gray].” Behind him, Christine Grahame (SNP) gestured silently to the Labour benches, asking if they were deaf. So, unity begins. And so, of course, it won’t last. Te Tories didn’t bother with it, and their

“Annabel should have looked where she was

going, instead of waving triumphally to the crowds”

whole approach felt more honest. Fragrant leaderene Annabel Goldie – mauve duchess, darling of the doily set, suburban amazon – bounded forth in her sensible footwear, and promptly fell down a hole. She ululated about the SNP minority

administration’s independence bill going “through the shredder” and averred that £2m of public money – hooray! – had been spent on “turning the National Conversation into a Nationalist con”. Good stuff, but Annabel should have looked

where she was going, instead of waving triumphally to the crowds. Ecksworth pointed out that the money spent had been £400,000 instead of £2m – boo! – and that this was considerably less than the £90m cost of the Alternative Voting referendum, which the Tories proposed to hold in Scotland – on the same day as the Holyrood elections. Eck hoisted Annabel aloft on her own

petard, pointing out the absurdity of the Conservative Party now “proposing a referendum which they don’t support on an

electoral system that they don’t support with the intention of campaigning against it”. Game, set and matchstick to Eck. However, a further shock was to come.

When the camera panned back to Annabel, there behind her sat Ted Brocklebank (Con) earnestly excavating his beak. I am not sure this wasn’t a television first. Fortunately, the voters of Scotland take no interest in politics, and so were unlikely to have witnessed the incident. Even so, it is surely a given truth that politicians are not elected, even to Holyrood, to sit there picking their noses. Particularly when their own leader is speaking. It was lucky Annabel couldn’t see, as she would have flicked Ted sharply with the edge of a doily. Te game was also a bogie for Lib Dem

leader Tavish Scott – like Annabel, hampered by always seeming at odds with his brethren down south – who asked a reasonable enough question about protecting a college course for renewables technicians. Te First Eck made positive sounding

noises before pointing out that any threats to that sort of thing were coming from the Lib- Con coalition at Westminster. “’It wisnae me that did it’ didn’t last very long

then, did it?” riposted Tavish ill-advisedly. Tat the barb, aimed at Eck, was clearly more applicable to Tavish’s own situation brought forth a torrent of titters from the Nationalist benches. And so the first proper day back had taken

us from unity through nose-picking to unabashed tittering. We can look forward to much more of at least two of these phenomena in the fascinating session that lies before us. And the two are, of course, nose- picking and tittering. As for unity. Ah, ‘tis a fine thing in theory.

But when you think about it, democracy is based on organised discord. It won’t be long before the usual spats with Labour break out. Te harpies will ululate. Bile will freely flow. Grim faces will be pulled and fists waved. Would we have it any other way? Of course we would. But it’s what we’re stuck with. It’s democracy with knobs on. However, I accept that “knob” is no way to describe members.

Since last time... took delivery of new Fender Stratocaster guitar; regret to announce I’ve been kissing it … been listening to old Gunsmoke radio programmes … exercising less and, consequently, have lost weight.

78 Holyrood 20 September 2010

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