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Last word

Rab McNeil

It’s party time THE NATION breathed a sigh of relief

when the spring party conference season was over. Now we could get down to the real dirty work: the election. Party conferences are convivial affairs,

where activists can relax among their ain folk, and feel pleasantly insulated from the outside world, with its irritatingly different opinions. I was forced to attend two conferences this

year, those of Labour and the Nats. Te Nats were in Glasgow, at the SECC, and huge, cheerful crowds gathered – to buy tickets for Mamma Mia. I had to write an important and influential article with the aid of a drummer’s soundcheck blasting each earlobe. Te first thing to do at conference is pick

up one’s accreditation, consisting in the main of a piece of plastic bearing your name and designation. Tis attaches to a clip, itself already attached to a kind of lanyard and, I am pleased to report that, this year, it only took me 45 minutes to put mine altogether. I wish I hadn’t bothered. It was only when

I got home that I saw my designation was “Rab McNeil – pillock.” Cheeky. I was there mainly to listen to First Minister

Ecksworth Salmond yodel his wee heart oot, and he didn’t disappoint. Mind you, arguably, he’s better without a script, ad libbing effortless putdowns of his bumbling nemesis, Iain Gray. I saw yon Gray speak at the Labour

conference, where he outshone what Labour would call their “national leader”, Ed Miliband. Mind you, my Auntie Morag could outshine Ed, and she’s been dead 20 years. Most of my time at conferences is spent

trying to avoid folk. I don’t like getting friendly with MSPs, in case it blunts my satirical edge, ken? Tat said, I couldn’t avoid Mike Russell, the SNP Education Secretary. He looked a bit bashed aboot the phizog, and somebody said he’d fallen on his heid. Tis is the man tasked with leading the nation’s children. And he can’t step oot the door withoot falling on his heid. Still, he was on good form, recalling a time

an unusual contraption here. Instead of individual sinks, there was a circular trough. I found the tap all right, but was unsure of the soap dispenser. I found it eventually, but the soap missed my hand, which was waving about vaguely. Spying my bewildered expression, Duncan opined: “What’s wrong with you?” Your correspondent: “It’s this thing. I can

do the water. It’s the soap I’ve having trouble with. Tey’re quite separate, d’you see?” “You’re a top journalist, one of the leading

“My Auntie Morag could

outshine Ed [Miliband], and she’s been dead 20 years”

when we had a couple of pints in a grim northern pub full of pirates and cut-throats. Michael swung from the chandelier and landed right in the middle of their snooker table, challenging all and sundry to a fight. I knew he should never have had that second pint. I also had the great fortune of encountering

my old friend – we each categorically deny being related – Duncan McNeil in the gentlemen’s lavatorial suite of the Glasgow Science Centre. Te Labour MSP for Greenock and

Inverclyde took the opportunity of accusing me, quite inaccurately in my view, of being thick. His grounds for this controversial accusation stemmed from my appearing momentarily baffled by the tap and soap arrangement in the aforementioned cludgie. It was being in a science centre that did it.

Te very word “science” makes me nervous, conjuring memories of unfathomably low exam scores. Consequently, I tend to panic and expect everything to be more complicated than it really is. But, to be fair, we were talking about

citizens of this country, and you can’t work a soap dispenser?” I have taken liberties with aspects of his dialogue, but you get the gist. I left the ablutorium, and shall never forget

his mocking laughter till the day I die. Mind you, I should have stayed on to see him trying to work it. He’s probably still there. I have to say, too, that – talking of brains and

that, ken? – your run-of-the-mill delegate, particularly at Labour’s conference, did not seem overendowed with the old grey head- sludge. Repeated stale jokes about the Arc of Prosperity – sub-text: Scotland could never run its own affairs – hinted at a serious lack of intellectual spark. One gets the feeling Labour membership

has become a purely social business, with no one being particularly clear about politics or any of that nonsense. Rather like the Conservatives in fact. As for the Nats, I saw only one kilt all day,

and detected a distinct lack of heedrum- hodrum. All very civilised. As a bit of a yob myself, I preferred the chaps standing outside Labour conference with a big banner saying “End London rule”, and shouting the odds at delegates. Tat’s the ticket: right in yer face. Quite brave too. You wouldn’t want Ed Miliband coming at you in his Doc Martens. And Iain Gray used to do martial arts. He has a black belt in origami. I didn’t stay around for evening drinks at either conference, as I dislike violence and vomit. But, by and large, I think everyone had a good time, their sinews strengthened before the dreaded ordeal of meeting the electorate.

Since last time... smashed window in the porch door of ma hoose when trying to slam it shut (curiously satisfying experience) … while spring-cleaning found two surprisingly unread biographies of Gordon Brown, reminding me never to order on Amazon when squiffy.

78 Holyrood 28 March 2011

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