Scotland’s Mean Girls election

21 April 2021

9:10 PM

21 April 2021

9:10 PM

Presented for whatever is the opposite of your edification, an exchange between the leaders of Scotland’s main political parties.

The setting is Tuesday night’s Holyrood election hustings, hosted via Zoom by the National Union of Students. We begin with Nicola Sturgeon accusing Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross of being inconsistent on who gets credit for the Covid vaccination programme in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon: Make your mind up.

Douglas Ross: No, I was saying your rollout was poor. Your rollout was poor.

NS: But the point is, the UK chose to—

DR: But answer the question—

NS: —procure in the way that it did and you’re saying it couldn’t have done that and Scotland couldn’t have chosen to do that with the other UK nations had we been a member of the EU. That is quite simply not true. We procured the vaccine in the same way, every year, as we procure the flu vaccine, and you don’t need to tell me how many people have been vaccinated with the first dose, I spend every day overseeing the programme. So stop talking down our vaccination programme for political purposes—

DR: I’m not. I’m talking down—

NS: —it is disgraceful to seek to do that.

DR: No, it’s disgraceful to suggest that you could do that.

Moderator: Okay. Thank you very much, folks. Thank you very much, folks.

Anas Sarwar: A great example to children and young people across the country this is. Fantastic.

Mod: Thank you. I do think it’s— Nicola, you’re on mute there.

NS: —this sitting on the fence on everything might be good for a while but sooner or later in politics you have to decide which side you’re on.

AS: Was that targeted at me, sorry?

DR: I think if she’s speaking about sitting on the fence, it was definitely targeted at you, Anas.

AS: Well, I think my position’s pretty clear. I just like to not forget about the half of the country that doesn’t agree with me on the constitution ‘cause I think we need to pull our country back together. We are in a pandemic, after all, and 10,000 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives. Perhaps others could remember that sometimes.

‘Boom,’ as the kids say. The clip itself is worse than the transcript. The snark, the put-downs, the finger-jabbing. It’s like watching a very dressed-down remake of Mean Girls. Totally not fetch.

Oh dear… @AnasSarwar the grown up in the room as always.

— Gordon McKee (@GordonMcKee_) April 20, 2021

Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, isn’t going to win this election but he’s the only leader likely to come out of it with his reputation enhanced. He has regularly come across as the only grown-up in the room, though that’s not much of a feat considering the alternatives on offer. He could soil himself midway through an answer about income tax rates and still be more impressive than Regina and Shane.

Sturgeon seems to resent this whole electioneering business, as though offended that she needs to win votes a mere five years after winning the last lot. Shouldn’t she be re-elected by, like, acclamation? She’s a gifted politician, no doubt, but gifted much more in the communication of policy than in the formulating/implementing/not buggering-it-up-so-badly-it-ends-up-in-the-Court-of-Session sense.

Sturgeon has been in power for 14 years, seven as deputy first minister and seven in the top job. It’s actually an achievement to spend so long in office and create no discernible legacy, or at least no positive legacy. If she chucked it all tomorrow, she would leave behind a yawning attainment gap in schools that abandons the poorest kids at an early age, an NHS waiting times law broken 300,000 times since she introduced it, and the highest rate of drugs-related deaths in Europe. Beyond that lie only the modish policy spasms of a leader so lacking in a political personality of her own that she desperately strains to emulate that of Jacinda Ardern.

Douglas Ross, though. He’s having a stinker of a campaign. His performance in the first TV debate was angry and shouty and while he did better in the second, he spent quite a bit of time cringing on camera as he was reminded of his weird beef with Gypsy-Travellers. The polls suggest that he’s not only personally disliked by the voters, but that they dislike him more the more they are exposed to him. His lack of self-confidence is evident in the decision to campaign with Ruth Davidson by his side for every photo-op and election broadcast. Not many politicians audition to run the country with their support worker in tow.

Ross doesn’t deserve most of the invective that comes his way from the Nationalist establishment and its media outriders. He’s a highly personable bloke in private and has an actual life with actual things in it, not just a soul-sapping schedule of branch meetings and NEC resolutions. But when he gets in front of a camera, he turns into that PE teacher that even the other PE teachers hated. If he loses too many seats on May 6, I think he might make us all climb the wall bars during lunchtime.

Sarwar may be a bit of a fence-sitter and a Blairish smoothie but he’s up against political cynicism incarnate on one side and aggressive dourness on the other. No wonder polling conducted earlier this month showed him with the second-highest net satisfaction rating from the voters and within three points of Sturgeon. Politics is about taking sides but there has to be an alternative to the Plastics vs. the Jocks, and that’s what Sarwar seems to be offering.

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