Doc Holyrood

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, GP and Tory MSP, goes toe-to-toe with Nicola Sturgeon over the NHS.

The Scottish Conservatives are clearly grooming Dr Sandesh Gulhane for big things.

They put him up in place of Douglas Ross to respond to Nicola Sturgeon’s Covid statement. A smart move, since he’s not one of those pretendy, sociology lecturer ‘doctors’ but a real one.

Dr Gulhane is a bit of a smoothie and delivers speeches like he’s spent the morning in front of a mirror rehearsing every solemn pause and emphasis, but a practising GP is an enviable asset for an opposition party eager to needle the government on health.

The good doctor told the First Minister: ‘Shocking ambulance waiting times are risking lives and today’s stark figures reveal the worst A&E waiting times on record… Wake up. Scotland’s NHS is at breaking point. This is a crisis.’

He stood there, with his NHS lanyard around his neck, scolding the First Minister. And what could she do? Go on the offensive against one of those ‘hard-working GPs’ she’s always praising?

Sturgeon allowed that ‘the NHS is facing crisis conditions’ but blamed them on ‘a global pandemic’. The opposition doesn’t just want the First Minister to admit there is a ‘crisis’ but to recognise that it predates Covid-19. It can be traced to a virus that hit Scotland’s NHS seven years ago: Sturgeon-14. A particularly noxious strain, it exacerbated problems that first set in when an untested politician was appointed health secretary in 2007. Her name escapes me right now.

Dr Gulhane insisted: ‘Warnings have gone ignored not just for weeks but for years. This cannot just be blamed on Covid.’ It’s going to take more than an apple a day to keep this doctor away.

Elsewhere, Sturgeon updated MSPs on travel rules and confirmed that vaccinated citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel will be allowed to travel to Scotland. ‘This change recognises the reliable standards of vaccination certification that apply in those countries,’ she explained. It’s good news for the tourism industry and ground-breaking, too: it’s the first recorded instance of Nicola Sturgeon saying ‘Israel’ without a scowl.

Philosophy enthusiasts will be excited to learn Holyrood’s long-running discourses on the ontology of nightclubs have reached a conclusion. A nightclub, the First Minister has decided, is a venue that ‘is open between midnight and 5am… serves alcohol after midnight… provides live or recorded music for dancing and… has a designated space, which is actually in use, where dancing is permitted’.

This is a good example of specificity being the enemy of clarity, for the First Minister’s definition only raises more questions. What if a venue meets all the criteria but says its music is not meant for dancing? How does she intend to police whether a ‘designated space’ — we used to call these dance floors — is ‘actually in use’?

Staff will be exempt yet customers will be required to provide proof they’ve had both jabs. So if you’re workin’ as a waitress in a cocktail bar, you’re fine, but anyone hoping to pick you out, shake you up and turn you around had better be carrying a vaccine passport.

Humza Yousaf, the wee soul, was up next. Running the occasional hand through a suspiciously jet-black coif, he outlined his plan for fixing the ambulance fiasco.

His answer was to source drivers from the fire service and taxi firms. Kate Forbes will love that. She’s the one who’ll have to foot the bill if they leave the meter on. Drivers will also come from the Army and the Red Cross, both of whom Yousaf thanked for stepping up. The British Army, the British Red Cross… I wonder if there’s some sort of political lesson to be drawn from this.

The Lord works in mysterious ways but John Mason continues to be the most baffling of all. The SNP backbencher asked of the soldiers: ‘Will they be driving their own vehicles or normal ambulances?’ I don’t think a Challenger 2 will be rolling through Shettleston to pick up Mrs McSporran for her hip operation.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 22, 2021.

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